Article VIII, Section 1 of the Indiana Constitution states: “Knowledge and learning, generally diffused throughout a community being essential to the preservation of a free government; it should be the duty of the General Assembly to encourage, by all suitable means, moral, intellectual scientific, and agricultural improvement; and provide, by law, for a general and uniform system of Common Schools, wherein tuition shall without charge, and equally open to all.”
I am not sure how we ended up coming to this moment in 2014 where many in the schools think that they do not have an obligation to educate ALL children. The statutes and Indiana Constitution do not say that public schools, paid for by public tax dollars, are only required to educate the smart kids, the easy kids, the athletes, the rich kids, the socioeconomically stable kids, the kids who do not move around a lot, etc. No, our idea of public schools has been that EVERY child will have access to an education from kindergarten through twelfth grade.
I am more than aware that many kids are challenging. Many of them are raising themselves, shuffled between family members and others in the community willing to take them in, and moving in and out of delinquency and CHINS cases. Many of them have incarcerated parents, who model the drug lifestyle when they are briefly back in the community. Many of them have lives that we cannot imagine and hope to never experience.
Many of our delinquent kids will tell you that being teased is part of their daily life that makes going to school almost unbearable. The kids are sent home from school repeatedly for dress code violations and told that they cannot return without the correct clothing, but they are wearing the only clothes that they own. They do not want to go to the school clothing closet for donated goods because they know that other kids will make fun of them. They do not want to take advantage of the requirements of their Individual Education Plan because they are teased for needing help reading or having to leave the class for individualized attention. So, they become angrier and angrier. And, they lash out at the authority figures who are supposed to be professionals and leaders who guide the children, instead of putting all of their school’s resources behind removing the children from school permanently.
Over the last few years, school districts have established “alternative schools,” which in the law is called a “school flex program” (I.C. 20-30-2-2.2). These school flex programs often offer only three hours of class instruction per day (as allowed by I.C. 20-30-2-2(b)). This makes it virtually impossible for a child to graduate with a diploma by the time he or she turns eighteen. The state law requires six hours of education for each student for grades seven though twelve, generally. See I.C. 20-30-2-2(a). The school flex programs were specifically targeted at the most challenging students:
- failed the ISTEP+ graduation exam at least twice
- been determined to be chronically absent
- been determined to be habitually truant
- been significantly behind in credits for graduation
- previously undergone at least a second suspension from school for the school year
- previously undergone an expulsion from school
- been identified by the principal and parents to benefit from the program. See I.C. 20-30-2-2.2(a).
Many districts have also encouraged the most challenging kids to enroll in online courses as “home schools” so that they can stop coming to school completely. I will never understand how a school administrator can look at many of these parents and make a sincere pitch that Johnny or Buffy is a perfect candidate for self-directed online classes. These parents often cannot keep the electricity on consistently to power the laptop. The parents often have not graduated from high school or passed an equivalency exam either, so they cannot meaningfully assist the child with the online courses. Eventually, the child figures out that there will be no consequence for doing nothing because homeschooling laws require very little. Then we have yet another child who has not achieved a basic high school education and is likely destined to be on public assistance, working in low-wage jobs, etc.
I am used to the outcry from educators that we all do not feel their pain. Is teaching hard? Yes. Being a public defender is not exactly a leisurely walk through a flower garden every day. If you are going to choose to be a public school teacher, you should teach all of the children assigned to your classroom. Step up to the plate, learn creative solutions, and help us get these kids through.
The schools are failing so many of our kids every single day.