The Rochester school board is currently reviewing a proposal for a new Code of Conduct that would require a major shift in how teachers and students interact in city schools. The proposed policy is much less punitive that the current one.
But after more than a year of planning and public meetings involving a wide range of supporters, the task force that drafted the new policy still faces a major hurdle to getting it approved: the opposition of teachers and principals.
The Rochester Teachers Association approved a short, but succinctly-worded resolution yesterday saying that it does not support the new policy in its current form.
“The Rochester City School District proposes to adopt a new Code of Conduct without providing, or adequately budgeting for, the extensive services, resources, supports and alternative settings that our students need and that serious, positive change in schools’ climate would require.”
The resolution is also critical of the administration.
“The introduction of new procedures without adequate resources and supports will lead to even greater chaos," it says.
A letter to the school board from the Association of Supervisors and Administrators of Rochester, the union representing principals, supervisors, and administrators, shares similar concerns.
The new policy aims to sharply reduce the use of suspensions, reserving them for the most serious student infractions, and makes a seismic shift toward relationship-building through restorative justice practices.
The Rochester school district, like many large school districts, has a history of high suspension rates. And research shows that nationally, black males receive disproportionately harsher punishment.
And some of Rochester’s parents say that their children are sent home for what they see as minor issues.
But teachers and administrators view the situation differently.
“We’re not against a new Code of Conduct policy,” says Adam Urbanski, president of the RTA. “We are concerned when you go in that direction and you don’t have the class sizes you need, the social and emotional support systems in place, and don’t have the alternative settings for students.”
Urbanski says that teachers wholeheartedly support the spirit of the policy, but the resolution is about having the resources and budget to properly implement it, which are not in place. And he says that even though suspensions are down, classroom disruption and assaults on teachers are rising: a pattern that has been reported in other school districts.
The Los Angeles Unified School System is the second largest public school district in the country and the first in California to greatly limit the use of suspensions and embrace restorative justice tactics.
“The district moved to ban suspensions amid national concern that they imperil academic achievement and disproportionately affect minorities, particularly African Americans. But many teachers say their classrooms are reeling from unruly students who are escaping consequences for their actions,” the Los Angeles Times reported last year.
But supporters of the new policy in Rochester’s schools are not impressed with this line of criticism. Privately and in some public meetings, some parents and activists say that many RCSD teachers are simply being challenged to sharpen their cultural awareness and classroom management skills.