It seems that nothing is simple when it comes to disciplining children in school.
Following last week’s story about a verbal threat that allegedly occurred between grade school students at Mountain View Preparatory — an interaction that included, according to the parent of a child involved, specific threats of violence featuring a firearm — MVP Principal Stephanie Jones reached out to the Cottonwood Journal Extra to express reservations about what had been reported.
According to Jones, two questions are relevant concerning the incident:
- Was there a verbal threat made involving a firearm?
- Did the child of the parents who reported the alleged threat report that a verbal threat had occurred?
To the first question, Jones was unequivocal: “There was no report made to me of a verbal threat with a firearm.”
As to the second question, however, Jones said that the issue is murkier.
Bound by rules sets forth in the Family Educational Rights and Privacy Act, a school administrator can only answer so much about students in her care.
Nonetheless, Jones said that the question should be asked to try and contextualize why a parent would or would not be contacted concerning student conduct.
Without a report from a student who experiences a threat and an admission of guilt from a child who threatened another student, Jones explained, school officials are unable to determine if a threat occurred and cannot move forward with communicating to parents that their child was threatened.
Nonetheless, even in the face of a confirmed verbal threat, the policy of Cottonwood-Oak Creek School District is relatively clear: Unlike at nearby Camp Verde Unified School District, suspension is not an automatic outcome.
Furthermore, the age of grade and middle school students is taken into account when considering what punitive measures are necessary.
“There’s no research that shows suspending a kid has any [positive] impact on their behavior, that I’m aware of,” Jones said, adding that many students simply consider it a break from school.
Nonetheless, Jones added that she does suspend students if their behavior warrants that policy application.
A 2010 report generated by Duke University’s Center for Child and Family Policy compiled 30 years of findings concerning the effectiveness of grade, middle and high school student suspension and concluded that suspension is effective in “Removing a problematic student from school, providing temporary relief to frustrated school personnel and raising parental attention to their child’s misconduct.”
Regarding student perceptions of suspension, the study concluded, “Suspended high school students believe that suspensions are applied too liberally, without adequate evidence, and are unduly harsh; suspended middle and high school students report that suspensions are not helpful and that being suspended increases their likelihood of receiving future suspensions; and suspended and non-suspended students perceive suspension as ‘an officially sanctioned school holiday.’”
Jones said that she does use the resources available to her on the MVP campus, however.
“We have a resource officer I’m in constant contact with,” Jones said.
COCSD Superintendent Barbara U’Ren, who enforces a policy that all discussions between students and law enforcement personnel occur with parents present, said that the application of suspension is contingent on a variety of factors — principally including the well being of children who may be exposed to a variety of violent media and often lack the judgment to see how their words may be taken.
“When there is a threat, it’s taken extremely seriously,” U’Ren said, but added that police involvement should be minimized if at all possible. “When those children don’t have that maturation, [principals] can make that determination [of a verbal threat’s seriousness].”
For her part, Jones views the policy of minimizing suspensions as a good thing, saying that parents have options when choosing local school districts: There are those where the immediate punishment for threatening someone is suspension, and there is COCSD, where a student may get another chance to stay in school and right their behavior among their peers.
A further story in this series will examine how the other local school districts discipline students who make verbal threats of violence.