By Steve Hunley

For sometime now the Knox County School Board has been prodded to change existing discipline policies.  A group of people claiming to represent “the community” have been pushing hard to make significant changes in policies that are now in place to punish bad behavior, minor and major infractions and some even want to decriminalize certain things.  They decry the notion of students being suspended for virtually anything and worry about the direct “pipeline from schools to prison.”

I would certainly agree this is a very serious subject and I don’t think it would hurt a thing in the world to regularly revisit the disciplinary policies.  I think this is an important conversation for the entire community and I would point out our community includes all of Knox County.  I also don’t believe we need to start reclassifying those who have no respect for the law as victims.  I’ve noticed that little attention has been paid to those who really are victimized by bad behavior in classrooms – – – teachers and students who are there to learn.  Nor are we doing those students a favor by attempting to decriminalize anything and everything.  Just what message does that send to those students for the future?  Breaking the law after dropping out of school or after graduating isn’t going to get one sent to detention; more likely it will get one a jail sentence.  For all the talk about “restorative practices”, I wonder how one restores what might well have never been there in the first place.

The school system has made a half hearted effort to solicit the opinions of principals, several of whom either did not reply or said little or nothing.  It mystifies me that the school system has not made even a token effort to solicit the opinions of those on the frontlines: the classroom teachers.  Teachers could provide much needed information about the current state of learning and discipline in our school system.  In fact, I think those are the first opinions that should be solicited to ascertain just where we are currently.

The board of education is not obligated to accept the recommendation of any task force, nor should they be hurried or bullied by a group of people claiming to represent the community.

This is a topic that touches many lives throughout Knox County, as well as the quality of instruction and learning in our classrooms.  It has the potential to touch the lives of every family in this county.  It is a serious topic worthy of discussion by everyone involved.  It is inexplicable to me that the opinions of classroom teachers have not been sought out nor has the school system held community forums regarding discipline policies across the county.

This is a conversation that should be discussed thoroughly and we should take whatever time we need to make sure we get it right.