In a memo addressed to Oklahoma teachers, state schools Superintendent Ryan Walters on Thursday unveiled what he described as “comprehensive discipline reform” for schools in the state and encouraged teachers to anonymously report school districts they believe have violated their rights or are out of compliance with the district’s own discipline policy.
Walters had indicated at the October state Board of Education meeting that such a plan was in the works but hadn’t revealed any details about it before Thursday
“I hear from parents and teachers throughout our state that our classrooms are difficult to manage effectively, causing breakdowns in discipline which ultimately drive down student achievement,” Walters said in a statement. “We are empowering teachers to effectively manage their classrooms while helping keep parents informed about classroom discipline. “
Although Walters touted the memo as “reform,” laws concerning each of the rights and responsibilities addressed in the document already are in place in Oklahoma. Most of them can be found through a link on the Oklahoma State Department of Education website.
"Superintendent Walters' memo summarizes existing state law with little to no context," said Torie Pennington, the president of the Oklahoma City chapter of the American Federation of Teachers, which represents teachers in the Oklahoma City Public Schools district. "It leads me to believe it is another attempt to create division among educators, parents and districts by inciting fear and worry."
Pennington added: "It is not a secret that schools all over are seeing a rise in disruptive behaviors post-pandemic. I hope that this memo was a genuine attempt to support our students and educators with a plan to follow that will address the issues our schools are facing nationwide. In the meantime, we will continue working with OKCPS to collaborate and advocate for best practices. "
What was included in Ryan Walters' memo addressing discipline in schools?
In the memo, titled “Teacher Bill of Rights: Classroom Management and Discipline,” Walters said teachers have rights including:
The right to enforce district policies.
The right to inform law enforcement.
The right to refuse to teach a violent student.
The right to not be held liable.
The right to search students’ persons, desk, locker and other school property.
And the right to detain a student until the proper search authorities can be found.
The memo said districts were responsible for the publication of and access to a discipline policy.
It included a long list of requirements for those policies involving bullying: procedures for school staff to report information relating to bullying to administration and law enforcement, if necessary; providing an anonymous reporting system accessible to students, which must have provisions that govern the investigation, determination, and documentation of all incidents of bullying reported to school officials; the reporting of the number of incidents of bullying; the determination of case-by-case severity; a process for the recommendation of community mental health care or counseling options to victims of bullying; the disclosure of students’ background information regarding mental health, substance abuse, or other counseling; and identifying name and position of the employee responsible for such acts.
The annual deadline for a district to report its discipline policy to the state Education Department is Dec. 10, a date mandated in state law. In a news release, Walters claimed without offering specifics the department “has uncovered hundreds of school districts that have not been reporting their discipline policies for review” and said the department is working to “ensure full and comprehensive accountability in our schools.”
A department spokesman didn’t reply to an email asking for a list of districts the department deems to be out of compliance with that law.
The memo included a link to a website through which teachers could report district responses to a wide range of incidents, including: “bullying/cyberbullying, child nutrition, civil rights, curriculum and instruction (including potential violations of HB 1775), fraud/embezzlement, Individuals with Disabilities Education Act, legal concerns, professional standards/educator conduct, safety and security, school board complaints, data security and privacy, suicide/self-harm, sex discrimination or sexual harassment.”
House Bill 1775 prohibits schools from covering certain concepts on race and gender.
Oklahoma City-area districts surveyed Thursday mostly reserved or declined comment. Edmond Public Schools spokesman Jeff Bardach said that district “received the Teachers Bill of Rights Memo from Superintendent Walters this morning after receiving (The Oklahoman’s) request for comment. We have begun reviewing it and don’t have any additional comment at this time.”
Moore Public Schools said it received the memo and "will take appropriate time to review the information,” while Mid-Del Public Schools Superintendent Rick Cobb said, "My team and I are reviewing the memo from the state superintendent. We have a solid discipline policy in place that is developed and disseminated in accordance with the appropriate board policies and state statutes. We will continue to follow our policies."
This article originally appeared on Oklahoman: Ryan Walters' discipline reform plan mostly rehashes Oklahoma laws