Harris takes aim at district's discipline plan
By Barbara Leader, bleader@thenewsstar.com,
thenewsstar.com, November 4, 2010

Monroe City Schools Superintendent Kathleen Harris does not like the district's policy allowing corporal punishment in schools. She wants it changed.

Kathleen Harris enters her fourth month as Superintendent of Monroe City Schools.

"I was very surprised that Louisiana is a corporal punishment state," she said. "I was also very surprised when I learned that in some instances corporal punishment can be the first disciplinary option."

State law says that to administer corporal punishment, it must be dispensed by a designated person at each school and with a witness present.

If the district passes a policy prohibiting corporal punishment, the policy will supersede state law and corporal punishment will not be permitted.

Harris said her stance was strengthened on a recent tour of an elementary school, which she declined to name.

"Teachers are tapping their kids with rulers when they don't do what they want them to do," she said. "Last week when I was visiting in a classroom, I heard a loud pop across the hall. A teacher had popped a kid, I don't know where." The action was taken by the classroom teacher and without a witness.

Harris said she immediately walked into the classroom, greeted the class, and made eye contact with the teacher.

"It's not appropriate for me as an administrator to go into the classroom and tell them they have violated district policy. It's a delicate matter," Harris said. She did not report the incident to the school's principal, but "I noted where it had happened and said that I need to work more diligently in extincting this behavior. It's antiquated, and it doesn't teach kids how to make positive choices. It teaches punitive consequences."

Harris has asked the district's principals to consider other options to curb behavior issues. She would like to see the schools implement their positive behavior support plans and reward good behavior.

Monroe Federation of Teachers president Sandie Lollie said Harris' instructions have not been given equally across the district. "Some principals say they were told, others say they know nothing," she said. "What alternative is she going to give? Teachers say 'she doesn't want us to paddle, raise our voices, write kids up or keep them in from recess."

The district's principals will get a chance to weigh in on the policy in the board's policy committee on Monday. After hearing the principals, the committee will make a recommendation to the full board regarding corporal punishment and other policies. Harris said she will urge the board to do away with corporal punishment.

"I would like to put other measures into place that teach kids healthy choices, and one of those is the positive behavior support plan," she said. "I hope that our district looks for other ways to be truly instructive and world class. I believe corporal punishment is not a part of a behavior consequence in a world class district."

Lollie said would like discipline to be consistent.

"Is she going to change policy again without board permission?" she asked. "It needs to be the board implementing the state law, not Monroe City's or Kathleen Harris' policy."

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