School administrators have another challenge ahead of them next month, when one of several new "safe schools" measures approved by the State Legislature and Gov. George E. Pataki is implemented.
Next school year, teachers will be allowed to remove disruptive students from class for up to four days. By July 1, all school districts in the state must have set procedures for the removal of disruptive students.
Buffalo already has a newly adopted code of conduct that details the steps that must be taken when a teacher removes a student from class. Many administrators, though, disagree with the strict procedural steps that now must be followed when teachers - and not just principals or other administrators - have authority to take children out of the classroom.
Last year, 3,500 Buffalo schoolchildren were suspended under the older and more limited system, said Anthony Palano, president of the union that represents Buffalo school principals. What will happen, he asks, when 4,000 teachers will be able to suspend students?
District officials doubt it will come to that. Removing students from classrooms should be a last resort, said Janice Y. Ferguson, assistant superintendent for Student Support Services. Instead, school officials hope to be able to identify problem children, intervene and offer solutions.
The New York State United Teachers, the state's largest teachers' union, pushed for the "safe schools" measure and now is justifying that support. NYSUT President Thomas Y. Hobart makes a compelling point when he asks whether it's fair to other students to be denied instruction.
Disruption is a disability, according to Hobart, and it is the job of administrators to come up with district plans, which Hobart contends should be implemented with union input. The question is how to balance the rights of students with disruptive problems against the rights of students who want to learn.
The drive for higher academic standards is inextricably linked to the drive for better behavior in the classroom. Teachers can't teach when students are being disruptive. A safe and orderly environment for learning is required, but a balance is needed - and the key is to reserve the removal rule for students who are chronically disrupting class.