Know your rights

Handling disruptive students

Learning cannot take place when students are unruly, disruptive or dangerous. Unfortunately, it takes only one or two disruptive students to interrupt the education of an entire class. What can teachers do when a child’s misbehavior interferes with other students’ learning?

The UFT has fought hard to ensure that educators have the right to teach in a safe environment. Tools in state law, the Department of Education’s own regulations and the contract enable schools to have a zero-tolerance approach to disruptive or dangerous behavior with explicit, consistent and even mandated consequences for a range of misbehaviors.

If your school’s administrators are not abiding by the rules on the books, you have the right to enforce legal and contractual mandates by filing a grievance or appeal or a safety complaint online.

Know the Discipline Code

What are the consequences for misbehavior? That depends on the nature of the infraction. The Citywide Standards of Discipline and Intervention Measures — commonly known as the Discipline Code — list specific infractions, from disruptive talking to using a weapon, by school level, grade and five levels of severity, and they assign a range of disciplinary responses and intervention measures required for each. The code is available online at the DOE’s website.

You should familiarize yourself with the code. Use it to teach students the behavior standards and the consequences for misbehavior. Then enforce those standards consistently. Remember, the Discipline Code is a DOE document!

The Discipline Code requires schools to create an intervention plan for students who violate the code of conduct. In addition to disciplining the student, schools now must address misbehavior with a range of interventions such as counseling, guidance conferences and peer mediation.

Removing a disruptive student

If a student in your class is chronically disruptive, you have the right, under the state’s Safe Schools Against Violence in Education (SAVE) law, to have that child removed for a single period, a single day or up to four days. The removal process is spelled out in Chancellor’s Regulation A-443 “Student Disciplinary Procedures,” a booklet that parents, children and staff are supposed to receive at the beginning of the school year.

Before beginning the removal process, you should first let the student know that he or she is in danger of being removed from the class and listen to his or her response. If you are still convinced of the necessity for the removal, talk to the principal and complete a Student Removal Form.

You should maintain an anecdotal log of the child’s behavior so you have a way to show the need for the child’s removal from your class at any subsequent hearings that may occur. You should also file a DOE Occurrence Report and a UFT Safety/Discipline Report following any serious incidents.

For your log, you can use the DOE’s Student Removal Form, which asks you to specify the disruptive activities as well as the interventions that you have taken. Please note that you should use the official DOE Student Removal Form to request a removal. When a removal is processed, it must be entered into the Online Occurrence Reporting System and the Suspensions and Office of Hearings Online databases. When three removals have been officially documented in a semester, the fourth removal is a mandated Principal’s Suspension.

The SAVE law, passed with UFT support, also has other provisions concerning removal. It requires each school to have a removal procedure and an alternative site (e.g., SAVE room) where the child can receive instruction and other supports and interventions. You have the right to file an expedited appeal to the chancellor if you have followed the procedure and your principal refuses to remove a disruptive student from your class or violates your agreement on the length of the removal.

The procedures are somewhat different for children with disabilities who exhibit disruptive behavior. Their issues should be addressed in their Individualized Education Programs. In some cases, it may be appropriate to do a re-evaluation and/or make a change in the student’s placement. For children with disabilities who exhibit dangerous behavior, there are special procedures to follow; contact your UFT district representative for assistance.

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