Youth Radio: Washoe Tries New Approach To School Discipline

Jan 4, 2018

Credit Alexa Ard

School discipline is always a hot topic for teachers, parents and students. In the past, schools in Washoe County have isolated problem students, but as Reno Youth Radio’s Kenia Aguirre reports, there is a new effort underway.

Everyone knows someone who has been sent down to the principal's office. It’s scary, intimidating and literally isolating. Kids are sometimes put in what are called “cubbies" or small rooms. Kids sit in there alone for a long time. My friend Cindy Aguilar remembers why kids were sent there when she was in elementary school. 

“Sometimes, kids were sent to the cubbies for talking back to teachers, or not doing their homework, very silly little things sometimes. They’re isolating students from class and from actually learning, and it’s not really effective in that way,” she said.  

Once, when I was at Mendive Middle School, I was on my phone too much. I was sent to the office and put in a “cubby.” I sat in there and did my homework. It really didn’t seem like punishment. I actually enjoyed the peace and quiet. I didn’t take the punishment seriously and my friend, Cindy, says some students probably like it. 

“There are kids who enjoy the time off from school and it’s not really teaching them a lesson,” said Cindy. She also thinks there are better forms of punishment for kids. She adds, “Maybe making them do some community service or enforcing a class to not have them do that mistake again.” 

I called up Washoe County School District’s Chief Strategies Officer Paul LaMarca to explain discipline strategies.

“This year because of legislative action there was significant change to what is called the Progressive Disciplinary team at school sites,” he explained.

Out of the 64,000 students who attend Washoe County Schools, he says, each day, one gets suspended, but suspension is the last resort to discipline a child. Instead, the district and teachers are now trying a new way of handling bad behavior. LaMarca says it’s called Discipline at the Door. 

“So, in these buildings, the teacher calls the office and an administrator immediately goes to the room and does one of these informal conferences with the student at the door,” he said.

Discipline at the Door is aimed at reducing the amount of lost instruction time. It’s a 180 from putting the problem student in isolation like they do at some schools. At a later age in school, students get disciplined for lots of reasons, drugs and violence included. In a way, it can all be tied back to elementary school and those cubbies.

LaMarca says it starts when they miss too much school as a young student, like being put in the cubbies. Then, as they grow older and classes get harder, it can lead them to act out in the way they do in high school. My friend Cindy thinks this new culture of respect, of discipline at the door, will help.

“I think there should be mutual respect for a student and a teacher, so if a teacher wants to be respected, she should show the students respect,” said Cindy.

LaMarca says this culture of respect is working. The district has seen a decrease in suspensions over the past two years.