Discipline in Ogden elementary schools: What does it mean and how is it tracked

Friday , August 04, 2017 - 5:15 AM2 comments

ANNA BURLESON, Standard-Examiner Staff

OGDEN — Ogden Board of Education member Don Belnap was trying to point out the benefits of having smaller schools at a special board meeting in July when he referenced the challenges the district is facing because the population they serve is “low on the socioeconomic scale.”

He then pointed specifically to T.O. Smith Elementary School.

“It’s hard,” he said. “The kids are tough.”

Belnap and other school officials say poverty and other socioeconomic factors influence the problems they deal with at Ogden schools.

T.O. Smith reported 414 disciplinary incidents in the 2016-17 school year, according to data provided by spokesman Jer Bates. These incidents ranged from minor classroom disruptions, which are considered level 1, to the highest level of infraction, 5, which can include assault with a weapon.

Belnap also made a comment during the meeting about substitutes and the district’s music specialist not wanting to go to T.O. Smith, but in a follow-up interview he explained he misspoke and that claim was incorrect.

Belnap said what he meant was that places like T.O. Smith, James Madison and Bonneville elementary schools are “highly impacted.”

“They have their own set of unique challenges that are different than other parts of the district and state where they have both a mom and a dad at home,” he said. “They’re giving their kids breakfast in the morning. You’ve got some places in Ogden where you’re lucky if you have grandparents raising kids.”

Some studies support that a child’s behavior and academic success is tied to their family’s financial standing.

A 2013 review of 55 studies published in “Social Science & Medicine” found socioeconomically disadvantaged children and adolescents were two to three times more likely to develop mental health problems. A 2017 study published by Cambridge University Press found adolescents with family economic hardship and tumultuous homes are more likely to take risks.

A study published in “Infant and Child Development” in 2017 found family income is important for improving home social environment which is strongly associated with a child’s social skills in single-parent families.

Last school year, 74 percent of the district’s students were enrolled in free or reduced lunch. To qualify, parents can apply based on their income or automatically enroll if they’ve already qualified for programs like Medicaid or food stamps.

Belnap’s own children — all seven of them — attended T.O. Smith. At the meeting, he talked about keeping building capacity at any of the three planned elementary school rebuilds closer to 600 than 800.

“There are challenges associated with socioeconomic areas we need to consider when it comes to the size of our schools,” Belnap said. “That’s what I’m trying to get across.”

Discipline data

Executive Director for Elementary Education Sarah Roberts said poverty can increase a school’s disciplinary incidents.

“What you tend to find is schools with a lot more kids with a background of intergenerational poverty need to be taught the expectation of school,” she said. “They tend to have more incidents reported.”

Via a state requirement, the Ogden School District only requires documentation for level 4 and level 5 offenses.

According to the district code of conduct:

  • Level 1 infractions include disruptive behavior, tardiness and mild physical contact.
  • Level 2 infractions include cheating on homework, profanity, leaving school without permission and repeated tardiness.
  • Level 3 infractions include “unacceptable physical contact” like rough horseplay or kissing, verbal assault, using tobacco products and bullying.
  • Level 4 infractions include fighting, hazing, and physical or emotional harassment.
  • Level 5 infractions include assault with a weapon, vandalism, illegal behavior, possession of a weapon or a look-a-like weapon with intent to intimidate or disrupt school and possession of alcohol or drugs. 

Roberts said she’s trying to encourage more documentation at all levels because it allows administrators to track and help students who repeatedly act out.

For now, level 1-3 infractions vary widely by the teacher involved. Age also plays a part, Roberts said, because elementary school children “playing” MMA fighter at recess is vastly different than high school students doing so.

Roberts said having “insubordination” included in level 4 has also created some confusion because some teachers feel a child telling them no or being mouthy warrants that higher level infraction.

“Really, that’s a level 2, disrespect,” Roberts said.

Even some level 5’s aren’t as serious as they sound. Roberts said one recorded level 5 was a case of elementary school children selling fake drugs.

“They had brought flour to school,” she said. “It wasn't really drugs; it was an imitation of a drug-related crime, so we felt it merited a level 5.”

The numbers are a count of incidents, not the number of students involved.

Of the district’s 14 elementary schools, Heritage Elementary School had the most recorded incidents — 428 — in the 2016-17 school year while Taylor Canyon Elementary School had the fewest with 16.

 

Roberts is specifically working with Taylor Canyon because they don’t record many level 1-3 offenses. Roberts said even though the school doesn’t have the highest population of “at risk” students, it’s important to document bad behavior before it reaches level 5 intensity.

Heritage has 213 recorded level 3 incidents, which Roberts said was created by several students with attendance issues.

Roberts said she sees a high number of recorded incidents as a good thing.

“We encourage it because what we would like to see is we’re intervening earlier rather than later,” she said.

T.O. Smith

Kimberly Loya began working as a recess monitor at T.O. Smith during the spring of last school year. She also has five children who attend the school and really likes it because of its dual language immersion program.

But after her experience watching kids on the playground, she’s debating whether to go back and work again next year.

“They are tough,” Loya said. “Believe me. I’m out there with them. They’re aggressive and tough, but there are some really good kids in there.”

Loya feels part of the problem is the children causing problems are being written up but not appropriately punished.

“It’s like why do you write them up if you're just going to have a five minute talk with them and send them back outside to play?” she said.

T.O. Smith Principal Terry Humphreys said more than 80 percent of her school’s students qualified for free or reduced lunch. In fact, the school is one of a dozen in the district offering free breakfast and lunch to all students through a federal program.

“Many of our students come from lower socioeconomic status homes, and that’s something that’s well-documented that has an effect on students performance at school,” she said.

Humphreys said she deals with challenging behaviors at her school and feels more structure is needed to help her kids succeed. To that end, they implemented a structured recess program where students are divided into groups for various play activities.

Loya said structured recess isn’t very effective because there are too many kids to keep them all separated into their assigned activities. But Humphreys said most parents are happy with what they’re doing.

“Do we have more than our share of tough kids? I don’t believe we do; our kids just come to us with different needs,” Humphreys said.

When Humphreys came to T.O. Smith in 2013, she made a concerted effort to document more low-level offenses to identify and offer preventative help to kids who repeatedly act out.

The school went from having six level 1 incidents in 2013 to 62 during the most recent school year. The overall number of recorded incidents across all levels has also increased from 242 to 414.

Humphreys attributed the most recent school year’s numbers to a small number of students committing a high number of offenses.

“We took the group of kids creating most of the problems on the playground, and we put them with adult supervision every time,” she said. “They were together with a counselor and a staff assistant. We made a real concerted effort to teach those kids some pro-social behaviors.”

Contact education reporter Anna Burleson at aburleson@standard.net. Follow her on Twitter at @AnnagatorB or like her on Facebook at Facebook.com/BurlesonReports.

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