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Schools face pressure to take harder line on discipline

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Schools face pressure to take harder line on discipline

As kids’ behavior reaches crisis points after the stress and isolation of pandemic shutdowns, many schools are facing pressure from critics to rethink their approaches to discipline — including policies intended to reduce suspensions and expulsions.

Approaches such as “restorative justice” were adopted widely in recent decades as educators updated exclusionary policies that cut off students’ access to learning and disproportionately affected students of color.

But more students have been acting out, and some school systems have faced questions from teachers, parents and lawmakers about whether a gentle approach can effectively address problems that disrupt classrooms.

The latest example came this week in Newport News, Virginia, where teachers complained at a school board meeting that the school system where a 6-year-old shot his teacher had become too lenient with students. Students who assaulted staff were routinely allowed to stay in the classroom, they said, because of a misguided focus on keeping them in school.

The local school board said it would take “the necessary steps to restore public confidence” in the school system.

Both anecdotally and according to federal data, instances of misbehavior have been on the rise since students returned to classrooms from the COVID-19 pandemic. A National Center for Education Statistics survey of school leaders last summer found 56% of respondents said the pandemic led to increased classroom disruptions from student misbehavior and 48% said it led to more acts of disrespect toward teachers and staff.

New scrutiny of approaches to discipline could halt momentum for policy reform, said Rachel Perera, a fellow at the Brookings Institution who studies education.

“There’s a lot of pressure on schools right now,” she said. “Schools also say they don’t have the resources to address more behavioral problems, and I worry that that will translate to schools falling back on old practices that are not effective in terms of supporting students in the way they need.”

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Policy reversals are already underway. In Gwinnett County, Georgia, the school board approved the use of a “restorative practices” program in August that was meant to focus on conflict resolution, repairing harm and rebuilding relationships in the classroom. But the district paused the program in December, with plans to restart it in the 2023-2024 school year, after concerns were raised over incidents in school, including a video of a student assaulting a teacher at a high school.

In Clark County, Nevada, district leaders announced in March that they would take a harder line on fighting and physical altercations, saying they would be grounds for expulsion. Some in the community had blamed a “restorative justice” approach for an increase in violence.

As of 2020, 21 states and the District of Columbia had passed legislation supporting the use of restorative practices in schools, according to research from the Georgetown Law Center on Poverty and Inequality.

Implementing the practice properly takes time, resources, and community support, said Rebecca Epstein, the center’s executive director.

“Change is hard,” Epstein said. “Change takes work and it also takes resources and educators are spread really thin. It can’t be up to individual teachers alone to shift the culture of automatically resorting to excluding students in response to disruptive behavior. It really takes a whole school cultural shift.”

Using restorative justice does not mean a school cannot remove a disruptive student from the classroom, said Thalia González, a professor at the UC College of the Law, San Francisco. But unlike other forms of discipline, restorative practices aim to address the root cause of student’s behavior and reintegrated them into classroom.

“That’s the problem with punitive discipline such as suspension and expulsion,” Gonzalez said. “You get removed and then you just come back. There’s nothing done to reintegrate into the community and rebuild the climate, the connectedness, the sense of safety, all the things that we know are so important to young people learning.”

Traditional discipline has widened inequities. Black children often are suspended or expelled at rates far higher than white children. Research has found that these discipline disparities can have lifelong consequences for children, such as worsened educational outcomes and higher rates of incarceration.

Newport News has its own history with restorative justice.

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At a school board meeting in 2017 district officials discussed efforts to reduce school suspensions while implementing restorative practices. Tracy Pope, then the school system’s restorative practices specialist, said at the time that such practices did not do away with anything already in place, but was rather “another way to look at how we do discipline.”

Well before the Jan. 6 shooting of a first-grade teacher, not all educators were happy with the handling of student discipline. According to a spring 2022 survey of teachers and staff, only 60% of respondents said administrators were addressing negative student behaviors.

Michelle Price, a spokesperson for the Newport News schools, said in an email that the district’s code of conduct “fosters the school division’s mission to ensure all students graduate ‘citizen-ready.’

“It provides guidance for students, families, and staff, and details the many options available to NNPS staff to address student conduct,” she said.

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Ma writes about education and equity for AP’s Race and Ethnicity team. Follow Ma and Finley on Twitter: https://www.twitter.com/anniema15 and https://www.twitter.com/Ben_Finley

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The Associated Press’ reporting around issues of race and ethnicity is supported in part by the Howard Hughes Medical Institute’s Department of Science Education. The AP is solely responsible for all content.

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Texas’ diversity, equity and inclusion ban has led to more than 100 job cuts at state universities

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Texas’ diversity, equity and inclusion ban has led to more than 100 job cuts at state universities

AUSTIN, Texas (AP) — A ban on diversity, equity and inclusion initiatives in higher education has led to more than 100 job cuts across university campuses in Texas, a hit echoed or anticipated in numerous other states where lawmakers are rolling out similar policies during an important election year.

Universities throughout Texas rushed to make changes after Republican Gov. Greg Abbott signed the law last year. On April 2, the president of the 52,000-student University of Texas at Austin — one of the largest college campuses in the U.S. — sent an email saying the school was shuttering the Division of Campus and Community Engagement and eliminating jobs in order to comply with the ban, which went into effect on Jan. 1.

More than 60 University of Texas at Austin staff members were terminated as a result of the law, according to the Texas Conference of the American Association of University Professors. The group said it compiled the list based on affected employees who had reached out and that the number could be greater. University officials declined to confirm the number of positions eliminated.

Officials at other schools, in response to inquiries from The Associated Press, indicated that a total of 36 positions were eliminated between Texas A&M University in College Station; Texas Tech University in Lubbock; Texas State University in San Marcos; The University of Houston; Sam Houston State University in Huntsville; and Sul Ross State University in Alpine. Officials said no one was let go; people were assigned to new jobs, some resigned and vacant positions were closed.

Earlier this week, University of Texas at Dallas officials announced that approximately 20 associate jobs would be eliminated in compliance with the law. University officials declined to comment on how many of those positions are currently filled.

Texas House of Representatives Speaker Dade Phelan, a Republican, applauded the University of Texas actions in a post on the social media platform X. “It is a victory for common sense and proof that the Legislature’s actions are working,” Phelan wrote.

Texas is among five states that have recently passed legislation targeting DEI programs. At least 20 others are considering it.

Florida was the first to implement a ban, last year, with the vocal backing of then-Republican presidential candidate Gov. Ron DeSantis, who often derides DEI and similar diversity efforts as “woke” policies of the left. In response to the law, the University of Florida last month announced more than a dozen terminations.

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FILE - In this Thursday, Nov. 29, 2012, photo, ivy grows near the lettering of an entrance to the University of Texas in Austin, Texas. A ban on diversity, equity and inclusion initiatives in higher education has led to more than 100 job cuts across university campuses in Texas, a hit echoed or anticipated in numerous other states where lawmakers are rolling out similar policies during an important election year. (AP Photo/Eric Gay, File)

 

FILE – In this Thursday, Nov. 29, 2012, photo, ivy grows near the lettering of an entrance to the University of Texas in Austin, Texas. (AP Photo/Eric Gay, File)

 

Universities of Wisconsin regents reached a deal with Republican lawmakers in December to limit DEI positions at the system’s two dozen campuses in exchange for getting funds for staff raises and construction projects. The deal imposed a hiring freeze on diversity positions through 2026, and shifted more than 40 diversity-related positions to focus on “student success.”

Republican legislators who oppose DEI programs say they are discriminatory and promote left-wing ideology. Some are counting on the issue to resonate with voters during this election year. Democratic DEI supporters say the programs are necessary to ensure that institutions meet the needs of increasingly diverse student populations. Lawmakers from the party have filed about two dozen bills in 11 states that would require or promote DEI initiatives.

Texas’ anti-DEI law, which Abbott enthusiastically signed last year, prohibits training and activities conducted “in reference to race, color, ethnicity, gender identity, or sexual orientation.” Additionally, the law, also known by its legislative title, SB17, forbids staff members from making hiring decisions that are influenced by race, sex, color or ethnicity, and prohibits promoting “differential” or “preferential” treatment or “special” benefits for people based on these categories.

SB17 states that the ban doesn’t apply to academic course instruction and scholarly research. That’s why professor Aquasia Shaw was so surprised to hear last week that her supervisor was not going to renew her contract. Shaw said she was not given a reason for the termination, but considering the timing, she suspects it’s the new law.

 
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FILE - Texas Gov. Greg Abbott speaks during a news conference Friday, March 1, 2024, in Borger, Texas. Texas' ban on diversity, equity and inclusion instruction has resulted in more than 100 jobs being cut at University of Texas campuses across the state — providing a glimpse of the potential impact of such bans being implemented in other Republican-controlled states. Abbott signed a law last year prohibiting DEI initiatives in public higher education. (Elías Valverde II/The Dallas Morning News via AP, File)

 

FILE – Texas Gov. Greg Abbott speaks during a news conference Friday, March 1, 2024, in Borger, Texas. (Elías Valverde II/The Dallas Morning News via AP, File)

 

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Shaw taught courses on the intersection of sociology, sports and cultural studies in the Department of Kinesiology and Health Education at the University of Texas at Austin. Her faculty page on the university’s website states her focus as “sociology of sport and cultural studies, sport management and diversity, inclusion and social justice.” A course she taught this semester was titled Race and Sports in African American Life. But she said she had not been involved in any DEI initiatives outside of her teaching.

“I was under the impression that teaching and research was protected so … I am trying to grapple with the idea and in denial that this can’t be the reason I was targeted,” she said.

In March, Republican state Sen. Brandon Creighton, who authored SB17, sent a letter to public university boards of regents across the state, inviting them to testify in May about the changes that have been made to achieve compliance. He included a warning that renaming programs, rather than changing their intent, would not be sufficient.

Creighton’s office did not respond to an emailed request for comment.

The law’s impact was felt in Texas even before it went into effect. In anticipation, University of Texas at Austin officials last year changed the school’s Division of Diversity and Community Engagement to the Division of Campus and Community Engagement. The name change didn’t save it — it was closed this month. School officials said some of the division’s projects would be relocated, while others would be shut down. They did not provide specifics.

Shaw said she was the only person of color in her department. She said she saw on X that other university employees had been let go and began connecting with them. At least 10 of the other terminated faculty and staff members whom she contacted are also from minority groups, she said.

The loss of her job was a big blow to Shaw, who had already scheduled classes for this summer and fall. She said her superiors had previously told her they hoped to renew her contract.

“I am so disheartened to see that exactly what I was concerned about ended up happening anyway,” Shaw said.

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Dallas doctor convicted of tampering with IV bags linked to coworker’s death and other emergencies

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Dallas doctor convicted of tampering with IV bags linked to coworker’s death and other emergencies

DALLAS (AP) — A Dallas anesthesiologist was convicted Friday for injecting a nerve-blocking agent and other drugs into bags of intravenous fluid at a surgical center where he worked, which led to the death of a coworker and caused cardiac emergencies for several patients, federal prosecutors said.

A jury convicted Raynaldo Riviera Ortiz Jr., 60, of four counts of tampering with consumer products resulting in serious bodily injury, one count of tampering with a consumer product and five counts of intentional adulteration of a drug, prosecutors said. A sentencing date has not yet been set for Ortiz, who faces up to 190 years in prison.

“Dr. Ortiz cloaked himself in the white coat of a healer, but instead of curing pain, he inflicted it,” U.S. Attorney Leigha Simonton for the northern district of Texas said in a video statement.

Prosecutors said that evidence presented at trial showed that numerous patients at Surgicare North Dallas suffered cardiac emergencies during routine medical procedures performed by various doctors between May 2022 and August 2022. During that time, an anesthesiologist who had worked at the facility earlier that day died while treating herself for dehydration using an IV bag.

Prosecutors said Ortiz, who was arrested in September 2022, had surreptitiously placed the tainted IV bags into a warming bin at the facility and waited for them to be used in his colleagues’ surgeries.

Evidence presented at trial showed that at the time of the emergencies, Ortiz was facing disciplinary action for an alleged medical mistake made in one of his own surgeries, prosecutors said.

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Texas woman sues prosecutors who charged her with murder after she self-managed an abortion

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Texas woman sues prosecutors who charged her with murder after she self-managed an abortion

McALLEN, Texas (AP) — A Texas woman who was charged with murder over self-managing an abortion and spent two nights in jail has sued prosecutors along the U.S.-Mexico border who put the criminal case in motion before it was later dropped.

The lawsuit filed by Lizelle Gonzalez in federal court Thursday comes a month after the State Bar of Texas fined and disciplined the district attorney in rural Starr County over the case in 2022, when Gonzalez was charged with murder in “the death of an individual by self-induced abortion.”

Under the abortion restrictions in Texas and other states, women who seek abortion are exempt from criminal charges.

The lawsuit argues Gonzalez suffered harm from the arrest and subsequent media coverage. She is seeking $1 million in damages.

“The fallout from Defendants’ illegal and unconstitutional actions has forever changed the Plaintiff’s life,” the lawsuit stated.

Starr County District Attorney Gocha Ramirez said Friday that he had not yet been served the lawsuit and declined comment. Starr County Judge Eloy Vera, the county’s top elected official, also declined comment.

According to the lawsuit, Gonzalez was 19 weeks pregnant when she used misoprostol, one of two drugs used in medication abortions. Misoprostol is also used to treat stomach ulcers.

After taking the pills, Gonzalez received an obstetrical examination at the hospital emergency room and was discharged with abdominal pain. She returned with bleeding the next day and an exam found no fetal heartbeat. Doctors performed a caesarian section to deliver a stillborn baby.

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The lawsuit argues that the hospital violated the patient’s privacy rights when they reported the abortion to the district attorney’s office, which then carried out its own investigation and produced a murder charge against Gonzalez.

Cecilia Garza, an attorney for Gonzalez, said prosecutors pursued an indictment despite knowing that a woman receiving the abortion is exempted from a murder charge by state law.

Ramirez announced the charges would be dropped just days after the woman’s arrest but not before she’d spent two nights in jail and was identified by name as a murder suspect.

In February, Ramirez agreed to pay a $1,250 fine and have his license held in a probated suspension for 12 months in a settlement reached with the State Bar of Texas. He told The Associated Press at the time that he “made a mistake” and agreed to the punishment because it allows his office to keep running and him to keep prosecuting cases.

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