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This memo came to me from an elementary school teacher fed up with a perceived lack of discipline. Disruptive students and violent students can be removed from class, but they’re quickly returned. The bad behavior continues. This teacher has been assaulted by some of her young students, but there are no consequences, at least not any that change behavior.

Discipline is often cited as the number one complaint among Rochester City School District teachers. This letter from a retiring teacher describes a desperate situation.

The teacher who sent me this memo believes yet another enforcement tool has been taken away. Teachers can no longer deny recess to misbehaving students.

The memo cites a new policy manual on student discipline. You can read it here. The manual does not list denying recess as an appropriate punishment.

The manual is very detailed. It lists punishments that include verbal reprimands, denial of extra-curricular activities, in-school-suspensions, out-of-school suspensions and expulsions. (You have to be 17 or or older to be expelled.)

Schools are given a maximum punishment for each offense. If an out-of-school suspension is allowed for an offense, the principal can “sentence” the student to in-school-suspension.

The maximum punishments don’t appear to be out of whack with the offenses. That’s not what I think could end up being a thorny issue with this policy.

It’s very clear this policy strongly discourages out-of-school suspensions. Kids can’t learn if they’re not in class, so it’s logical to reduce the time away from school. Studies have shown minority and special education students get suspended far more than white students for similar offenses. High rates of suspensions are seen by many as a civil rights issue. The RCSD suspends thousands of children every year.

As a result of growing concern about suspensions, this policy makes it a giant pain in the you-know-what to suspend a child.

Here’s what has to happen for an in-school-suspension. As you can see, this is a very labor-intensive process.




What’s more, many elementary schools don’t have ISS rooms. This requires more work on the part of school staff:



Any elementary student who is suspended must get one hour of instruction a day. High school students get two hours. This applies whether they are suspended in school our out of school. They are supposed to be given “equivalent instruction.”

Suspending students with disabilities requires another layer of paperwork.

It’s very important to protect students’ right to an education, as well as due process. It’s also very important to ensure a culture of discipline and respect in schools. With this in mind, the policy raises a number of questions. Are principals feeling pressure from Central Office to not suspend students and are inappropriate disciplinary decisions being made as a result? Are principals following this manual and doing all of these steps every time a kid is suspended? Are principals not suspending kids because it’s too much work? Are schools without ISS rooms suspending students at a lower rate, and is this affecting the school environment negatively? Are students being given in-school suspensions over out-of-school suspensions for serious offenses? Are students getting equivalent instruction when they’re suspended?

I’m not sure what an effective discipline policy looks like. Judging from the initial complaints, this may not be it.


Links of the Day:


– Take a look back at Greece Towne Mall. It’s expansion contributed to the death of Irondequoit Mall.

– The City of Rochester destroyed a community garden, saying the grass was too high.

– Here’s why the property tax cap could be 0 percent next year.

– Saratoga Springs police chief wants officer fired after he pepper-sprayed man who flipped him off.

– Don’t say “wrong place, wrong time” when talking about killings.

– Why is U.S. women’s soccer still fighting to exist?

Mr. Ms. and Mx.

28 Responses to Recess for Discipline?

  1. Rachel: Well, your anti-mall, anti-capitalist colors came shining through once again, in your link “Greece Town Mall’s expansion contributed to the death of Irondequoit Mall”. You may feel that way, and of course you are entitled, but having read the link twice, there is not even a hint of your eroneous conclusion contained within. Please, next time, do your homework. Thank you. – Chris Wilmot, Pittsford, NY

    • June 6, 2015 at 11:08 am Rachel Barnhart responds:

      Chris, why do you think I-M failed? Were we not over-malled?

    • June 6, 2015 at 12:50 pm Julie responds:

      The second time I was forced up against the wall by a group of roving teens was the end of my patronage of Irondequoit Mall. That and carjackings in the parking lot were the reasons my friends talked about for never going back.

    • June 6, 2015 at 4:21 pm RaChaCha responds:

      Hey, nice to see Chris Wilmot on here. It’s been way too long since I’ve seen you, Chris. Hope all is well.

  2. Part of the problem with out of school suspension is that it can essentially give the student a free vacation, especially if the student is a repeat offender. In school suspension at least (in theory) forces them to do work in a more restricted environment. But even I.S.S. isn’t necessarily effective if the student is there over and over. I know this from being a repeated victim in middle school of someone who was repeatedly sentenced to in school suspension. Despite it being in theory cruel and unusual punishment, maybe we should bring back public floggings. 10 lashes for disrespect or 20 for fighting wouldn’t be so “cool.” I’m talking about implementing this state-wide, not just in the city, so I’m not being racist, just fed up with the lack of discipline and acceptable options. The City School District may be the worst but the suburban districts I’ve been in really aren’t much better.

  3. June 6, 2015 at 10:49 am theodore kumlander responds:

    it’s all about the money if students are suspended out of school the district loses money on that student. the RCSD used to send a tutors out to the homes of students who were suspended. Supt. Clifford Janey eliminated the program to save money on tutors which may have been a smart move unfortunately it put disruptive students back in the schools. think about this in 1978 the RCSD had 53,000 students in 2010 it was 29,000 and falling. less students less money.

  4. June 6, 2015 at 11:03 am theodore kumlander responds:

    I find it amusing that Chris Wilmot feels he needs to correct Rachel. Wilmorite built the most beautiful mall I have ever seen in the wrong location. consider this . at the time Irondequoit was being planned Seabrezze park was falling apart . if Wilmorite had bought seabrezze and leveled it they could have built a 2 story mall right on the lake with a expressway right next to it. . think about what an attraction that would have been.

  5. One of the main problems with the RCSD (urban) is that the students are bored out of their gourds. Keeping this as short as possible, there is a significant difference within the suburban and urban student population. It is NOT a level playing field. Duh, you say,….well the “experts” in our community, wrestling with the beyond poor RCSD outcome, haven’t quite figured that out yet. They can’t even connect the poverty issue with education. How many times do I have to hear that we need more good paying jobs in order to eliminate the poverty scourge. Here comes another duh,…you need to have some sort of skill, you need education, you need relevant education, you need butts in seats and students graduating. Then most important you need something beyond a high school diploma,….you need a post high school success opportunity. We have a 125 member committee in place to deal with the poverty issue and that committee has just appointed a 100K director with a staff to follow. They are not fooling around this time, this time they are REALLY going to solve the poverty problem. Wanna bet that they will not, cannot connect the education crisis with poverty?

    Do I have an answer to the RCSD failure? As a matter of fact I do have a possible solution. It won’t cover all the bases, but will go a long way toward creating that level playing field, it will enhance the current system, it will encourage attendance, it will provide relevant education with a clear path to a career/profession. Most important, will provide that illusive post high school success. Now, will anyone listen?! I have been on a crusade to share this with anyone who will listen. To date it has been a struggle. The “experts” have it all under control,…er,…for the last few decades now.

  6. June 6, 2015 at 4:20 pm RaChaCha responds:

    I tend to agree that denying recess isn’t healthy. There may even be some students who act up intentionally to get out of recess. I know when I was in school, the kids who stayed in from recess were kind of like an “in” club. Including experimentation between the girls and the guys. I’d best not elaborate.

    The discipline issue goes to the heart of one of the biggest issues with public schools, especially urban, where you have so many kids coming in from dysfunctional homes, who bring the dysfunction along with them. Some will be such hard-core bad apples, that they will disrupt the educational experience for everyone else trapped in their barrel with them. Most parents don’t want their kids in such an environment, and want other options. This helps fuel support for charters.

  7. June 7, 2015 at 7:37 am John Moriello responds:

    Malls are designed to offer a vast variety of shopping options, which by definition leads to attracting customers from a wide geographic area.

    Well, when you build a new mall roughly four miles from Lake Ontario to the north and on the same major thoroughfare (albeit on the other side of the river) as the Long Ridge Mall/Greece Towne Mall property to the west, you’re leaving yourself with having to lure people from the south (who might already by inclined to shop at Marketplace or Eastview) and the east (who’ll have to cross Irondequoit Bay to get there) to create critical mass.

    Face it. They built Irondequoit Mall one town too far to the west. It’s not as though Webster has remained pristine and undeveloped all these years. A Webster Mall could easily be sitting on any half a dozen parcels out there that are now hosting major retail.

  8. June 7, 2015 at 3:59 pm Jeff responds:

    What about my child’s right to quality education? We are always concerned about how to educate the troublemakers or children who don’t want to be there. We talk about how out of school suspension denies children “equivalent instruction”, but we don’t talk a out lost opportunity for children who want to learn but can’t because the teacher is dealing with behavior issues.
    If we focused a little on the ones who wanted to be there maybe we could realize a little more success.
    Now we just seem to be bringing everyone down to the lowest common denominator.

  9. June 8, 2015 at 9:31 am Monkeytoe responds:

    Right now we gear public education in the Cities toward the lowest achieving / most disruptive students. We do everything to “keep these kids in school” and not “label them”. This results in terrible outcomes across the board.

    As mean as it may seem, it would be far better to remove these kids from the regular population, put them in their own schools and let the kids who want an education succeed. that would increase results dramatically in the City schools from the get-go.

    the counter-argument is “you are giving up on the bad/unruly kids”. Yes. Yes I am. How many of those kids are truly “reached” during their school careers? 1%? Well, the cost of “reaching” that 1 kid out of 100 bad/unruly kids is significantly reducing the education benefits for the remaining 500 kids in that school. the Schools dumb down the curriculum for the bad/unruly children, dumb down the discipline, spend huge amounts of time and resources on the bad/unruly children, and the other kids at those schools tend to be afraid of those kids.

    On a purely cost/benefit analysis we are doing society – and the city school kids in particular – a huge disservice by centering all policy/activities/rules around the bad/unruly kids. Yes, these kids come from bad circumstances and bad homes and likely did not have a chance. And that is sad.

    But, it is not the school’s job to be their parents and raise them – and frankly, the schools cannot do it. We have seen that when the schools try to raise the kids instead of focusing on education, the outcome for everyone is worse.

    We as a society need to realize that we cannot waste the majority of City school kids’ educations in a futile effort to “save” the kids that cannot be saved. Leave the attempts to saving those kids to charitable organizations, churches, and other family members. The schools can’t do it, and making them try to do it results in failure all around and robs the other kids of an education.

    Facing reality about this would improve education outcomes overnight. But we won’t do it out of a crazy belief that somehow keeping these kids in school next to the other kids will “save” them. It has not worked in the last 40 years, but why not keep trying the same thing. Let’s double down on the failure!

    • June 8, 2015 at 9:51 am Sean responds:

      It’s not “mean,” it makes sense to me. The problem may be that there are more disruptive kids than we think. But I’m all for removing problem kids, putting them in their own alternative school and getting on with it with kids who want to learn. They’re kids, not whales. Our job is not to “save” them. They have to WANT to save themselves. Otherwise it is a waste of resources and time.

    • June 8, 2015 at 11:04 am Monkeytoe responds:


      I don’t think there are more disruptive kids – it doesn’t take a lot of those type of kids to cause the problem. And, likely, there are probably some low-level disruptive kids who follow the truly disruptive kids’ lead, who would likely reform if those kids were removed.

      But, even if there are alot, say 25%, if you removed them and let the other 75% flourish, it would still end with better results than RCSD is achieving today.

  10. June 8, 2015 at 9:36 am Monkeytoe responds:

    “Chris, why do you think I-M failed? Were we not over-malled?”

    It is entirely possible that the Irondequoit Mall could not compete with the Greece Mall and Eastview Mall. And? Should business #1 not start up because such competition might hurt business #2? Who gets to decide what businesses can start and where? You? the Gov’t? Based on what criteria?

    Or, do we let the market and competition decide? You are likely correct that if no other malls opened or expanded, the Irondequoit mall might still be thriving. Of course, if digital cameras hadn’t been invented, Kodak would still be thriving.

    • June 8, 2015 at 9:38 am Rachel Barnhart responds:

      Government IS involved already. When it gives tax breaks to these projects and the projects fail, guess whose problem it is?!

  11. June 8, 2015 at 9:56 am Monkeytoe responds:

    Government IS involved already. When it gives tax breaks to these projects and the projects fail, guess whose problem it is?!”

    I am very much against tax breaks for business. It is a stupid idea. Give business “x” a tax break to compete against business “y”? Gov’t should get out of trying to pick winners and losers and instead should lower taxes across the board and deregulate to allow businesses to prosper (the very idea of having things like COMIDA is an admission that taxes are too high and we have to do something extra to lure or keep businesses – but it really only helps those businesses with the wherewithal to threaten to move – most smaller businesses can’t afford to move location, so can’t credibly threaten to leave, so are stuck paying the high taxes.

    but, that doesn’t really answer my question – you want gov’t to decide where businesses can start up? You think the gov’t should have stopped Greece from expanding? Which gov’t? I’m sure that the Town of Greece was in favor of the expansion for its own tax base. So that means a higher level of gov’t would have to step in and order it not to expand, correct?

    So, you really got me – gov’t is involved sometimes in these things because the gov’t stupidly plays games with property taxes. Not sure that really is a good response.

    • June 8, 2015 at 9:57 am Rachel Barnhart responds:

      Never said that. I only pointed out that Wilmorite overbuilt. I never said anything about government making decisions.

  12. June 8, 2015 at 10:01 am Monkeytoe responds:

    Government IS involved already. When it gives tax breaks to these projects and the projects fail, guess whose problem it is?!”

    And, in reality, this isn’t even true. If we are allowing business “Y” to pay LESS taxes, isn’t it better for that business to fail to allow another business who pays full taxes to succeed?

    If we prop up Irondequoit Mall by stifling competition, how are we serving the community? When a business has no competition and does not have to worry about doing poorly, it will almost always end up providing a lousy product and lousy service.

    And what community are we serving? Irondequoit loses here but Greece gains. So, are you saying Greece should have a lesser tax base in favor of Irondequoit? Why? Why should we favor Irondequoit over Greece?

  13. June 8, 2015 at 10:04 am Monkeytoe responds:

    “Never said that. I only pointed out that Wilmorite overbuilt. I never said anything about government making decisions.”

    Then why the response you gave? If that wasn’t your point, why defend it by saying “gov’t is involved”.

    If your argument is that Wilmorite did something wrong (i.e., overbuilt) then the argument you are impliedly making is that Wilmorite lost money because of what they did. Wilmorite can only “overbuild” from Wilmorite’s perspective if they lose money on a project. Is that the case?

  14. June 8, 2015 at 11:02 am Monkeytoe responds:

    “You’re the one who brought up government first, not me”

    Fair enough. But still not sure what your response was meant to argue. Why respond at all if you weren’t arguing for gov’t control? Why respond with “gov’t is already involved”? Simply saying “You said it first” is not a response. And, responding with “gov’t is already involved” implies you want gov’t involved and/or more involved.

    I’m not clear at all what you are arguing with regard to the Greece Mall expansion, or if you are arguing anything. I interpreted an implied argument that pehaps you were not making – that some gov’t or somebody should have stepped in and stopped the Greece expansion to save the Irondequoit mall. Perhaps I was wrong to infer that.

  15. Did Wilmot leave the city holding a $20millio bag with Sibley? I’m sure they’ve received other tax and government “help”, kind of funny to see him call Rachel “anti-capitalist”

  16. June 8, 2015 at 5:39 pm Kevin Yost responds:

    Corporal punishment should be legalized again and brought back.

  17. June 8, 2015 at 8:24 pm Kamakazee78 responds:

    Rachael, where are you getting the data on about the thousands of suspensions per year data?

    • June 8, 2015 at 8:50 pm Rachel Barnhart responds:

      I embedded a link in the blog.

      • September 7, 2015 at 1:20 am Scorsese responds:

        I know this is very, very late. I would like to know rcsd suspension rates. The reason why I want to see this data is that I know for a fact principals don’t suspend much at all. Vargas berates principals at monthly meetings for high suspension rates. Ask any teacher if suspensions are high. This reeks of another well constructed,manipulative lie to benefit the ones who profit. Bring back Edison tech vocational programs and kids will not want to act up. Our education is outdated and kids see little relevance in it. Not buying the poor little black boys are being targeted BS, when no one cares that these same black boys are being murdered by cops and gangs in the street

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