We Need a Revised Discipline Approach

Cartoon by Yasmin Roach

The worth of a school is measured in various ways. Some measures are unofficial, passed between students or staff. Others are more formal, such as the Maryland report card, which assesses the overall quality of schools across the state.

The 2022 report card for Wilde Lake High School didn’t look great. Almost 40% of students are chronically absent. Academic performance is poor. Student and teacher surveys rate the school environment badly.

Since the report card was last released in 2019, the school’s rating has gone from four stars to three. I believe that this is due to our inconsistent discipline system.

In terms of academics, the Report Card says that within Wilde Lake, less than 50% of students are meeting standards in either Math or English. Underperformance, for many students, is a result of years of not enough resources at school and at home and socioeconomic barriers, according to “The Atlantic.

According to The Borgen Project, low performance in school is correlated to higher poverty rates, but the effects can be seen immediately as well. Students forced into classes where they feel frustrated or bored may choose to leave class and wander the hallways. 

It’s not uncommon to step out of a classroom during any period and see four or five students in the hallways roaming around, being rowdy, and most definitely not learning. Again and again, bathrooms are locked because of misuse from students not in class, yet little is done by administration to put a permanent stop to the misbehavior. 

Ultimately, everyone suffers. Our report card rating suffers too because when people are not in class, they don’t learn, and then they don’t do well on the tests the report card assesses. 

Wilde Lake uses a policy of restorative justice to approach discipline, which has led to less punishment. This is for a good reason; according to the National Education Association, restorative justice is the most equitable and effective approach to discipline. 

Yet, the tie-in between Wilde Lake’s and Howard County’s discipline policies is confusing. There is a zero-tolerance (immediate suspension) approach to fighting, regardless of who throws the first punch. Substance violations, like vaping, have the same treatment, as per HCPSS code. 

This means that students who misbehave are held back from improving or learning, rather than receiving the additional help and support they so clearly need. According to The Atlantic, a history of suspension is correlated with lower achievement levels in school, putting students who have been suspended even once significantly behind their peers. 

Suspensions and other punitive reactions are not the only way to go. Wilde Lake prides itself on our restorative justice initiatives, which is a good thing. But using it as a half measure instead of implementing it fully is backfiring. 

HCPSS should allow us to replace exclusionary policies with methods that are both effective and helpful to all parties. Restorative justice can address our issues in ways that don’t cause further harm, and we should be using it. 

If we want to do what’s best for students, we need to hold them accountable, not hold them hostage from their education, whether through neglect or punishment. 

This practice of pushing students away from their education is not fair to those struggling with issues such as emotional regulation, drug addiction, and frustration in class. And it is not fair to those in an unsafe and disruptive learning environment. 

By the time students get to high school, it’s hard to fix the damage that’s already been done to their education. The least we can do is make sure that every new group of Wilde Lake students know they are surrounded by people who care about their safety and success through fixing the way we discipline.