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'Order in the Classroom'

Getting a grip on discipline with Safe Schools legislation

Former Principal Discusses Discipline Problems

Transitional School offers new option

State officials liked Transitional School idea

Getting a grip on discipline with Safe Schools legislation
Editor's Note: Although area schools aren't gripped with the massive discipline problems that are prevalent statewide, they do have some discipline problems. In the first of this four-part series on "Order in the Classroom" and what's being done, a Harrison County administrator explains programs established under the recently passed Safe Schools Act.


When a fake bomb device was planted by students at Robert C. Byrd High School last year, parents, students and educators didn't have to wonder if those guilty would still be roaming the halls.

The matter was cut and dried under West Virginia's Safe Schools Act, passed in March 1995. There would be immediate expulsion from school.

No ifs ands or buts.

"It was clear. It was in black and white," said Kathy Loretta, Harrison County director of Healthy, Safe and Drug-Free Schools. "That's assuring to the people at the school level. They have, quote unquote, the law on their side."

That, according to Loretta, was one of the cornerstones of State Law HB2073.

"Safe schools legislation was designed to create an environment for students which protects them emotionally, mentally and physically," Loretta said. "When you hear safe schools, you may think it's designed to stop a kid from getting mugged or knifed. But it's developed from the bottom up to build self-esteem and eliminate serious problems later."

Under the Safe Schools Act, certain actions mandate expulsion for a period of not less than 12 consecutive months. These include possession of a deadly weapon, battery on a school employee, and sale of a narcotic drug on school premises, at a school-sponsored function or on a school bus.

For the most part, Harrison County schools have proven to be safe and have not had to deal with such problems. There have been, and probably will continue to be, small pockets of violent or harshly disruptive behavior, but they are significantly less than in other schools nationwide.

Don Knicely, Harrison County Schools administrative assistant, said only two students are now serving expulsions. Only 14 students have received 10-day suspensions one or more times during this school calendar year.

Still, questions have been raised recently about discipline. The general thought is that control in the classrooms is slipping away from educators because of a lack of policies to administer discipline.

That, according to Loretta, was why the safe schools legislation was enacted.

"In light of the national trend, in particular the big cities, discipline was brought to our attention very quickly," Loretta said. "Whenever something would happen locally or even in the state, there was an anxiety level. People don't want those horror stories here."

To avoid negative trends, students in Harrison County are taught life management skills through programs provided under the safe schools legislation. It's hoped the programs will teach students to control their anger and behavior.

"We don't want a shover on the playground in kindergarten to become the knife puller when they get to high school," Loretta said.

Four such programs are up and running and a fifth will soon be, Loretta said. The programs include Peer Helpers, Teen Institute, Student Assistance and Responsible Students. Conflict-Resolution Teams are also planned.

Peer Helpers is used primarily in middle schools and includes teachers and students. Under this program, a student with a problem can approach a teacher or even a classmates for discussion.

"The students and staff members are trained to reach out to the students and peers to handle any potential problem," Loretta said.

At the high school level there is the Teen Institute program. It too is an outreach program that helps classmates interact with one another to solve any number of problems.

Loretta said students are selected to receive Teen Institute training at a statewide meeting in the summer or a Jackson's Mill seminar in the winter.

"They're exposed to things such as the effects of drugs, alcohol and tobacco. They'll learn about anything that has to do with their physical well-being," she said. "Those students become leaders at their schools."

The Student Assistant program has a team of specially selected faculty members at elementary, middle and high schools who meet periodically to handle special cases in the schools.

"They handle students without proper clothing, whose parents fail to get them to school on time or may have a drug or alcohol problem and struggle academically," Loretta said. "The team has been trained to handle those students."

The Responsible Students program has not found its way into every school but will shortly, Loretta said. In the program, students learn to monitor their own behavior.

"The students learn about consequences for their behavior," Loretta said. "It will be an effective program when it's fully implemented."

Another planned program is Conflict-Resolution Teams. The teams will be placed in elementary, middle and high schools around the county.

"This will allow the schools to handle many small things. The students learn how to act as mediators," Loretta said.

The Safe School Act won't handle all problems, she said, but it does serve as a guideline. In fact, all 55 counties have paralleled their discipline policies to coincide with the legislation.

"It's our tool to work with in regards to discipline. It's helpful because it puts everything in black and white," Loretta said.

Updated January 22, 1997
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Former Principal Discusses Discipline Problems

Editor's Note: Although area schools aren't gripped with the massive discipline problems that are prevalent statewide, discipline problems do arise. In part two of the series on "Order in the Classroom" veteran educator Wilson W. Currey gives his view of how discipline has changed during his 37 years in the schools


Wilson W. Currey knows a thing or two about discipline.

As a member of the public school system for 37 years and a member of the U.S. Marines, Currey learned about discipline from a classroom and from a personal standpoint.

During his tenure on the educational stage, which Currey continues as a member of the Harrison County Board of Education, he's watched the disciplining of students change. He's not so sure it's for the better.

"The thing I remember when I first started is that when you called a parent to tell them their child was misbehaving, they said they would take care of the problem and don't worry about it," Currey said. "By the next morning, the young man or lady would apologize to you as a principal and the teacher."

That situation used to be the norm. Now, he said, it's the exception.

"Today, when you call, the parents say it has to be the fault of the teacher and the administration. It's not a problem of the child, it's your problem," Currey said. "That's not always the case, but it's headed in that direction."

During Currey's days as a student, discipline was spelled out. For him, he knew to mind his teachers, or punishment would be waiting once he got home.

"You can bet by the time I got home someone at the house knew I had been in trouble," Currey said. "What's surprising, though, is that we didn't have a phone. But my parents knew what happened. Then, I was going to get it."

For years, students knew they were going to be in trouble for classroom disruptions. The punishments were usually quick, in the form of a paddling, and the matter was over.

Currey said during his last 20 years in the school system, he never used a paddle. He said it was more of a mental thing for students to see and it usually worked.

"I actually had parents come in and use the paddle on the child in my presence and I had them tell me to use the paddle on their kids," Currey said. "I don't know of anyone that was ever abused in a paddling situation."

Quick-fix corporal discipline such as paddling has been outlawed in Harrison County for several years. Today, punishment is a long, drawn out process.

"If I could make some changes, it would be to speed up the current process for punishment," Currey said. "It takes days to take care of a discipline problem which took minutes 25 years ago. Now, teachers have to fill out forms and send them home, plus we have to have conferences with the parents."

On top of that, Currey added, parents can appeal suspensions to the board or to the secondary schools supervisor.

"All of these things take time," said Currey, who was a principal for 33 years at Sardis, Wyatt, Roosevelt-Wilson and Liberty. "Plus, you have to take it step by step. If a step is missed, an attorney may have it thrown out or the school board may throw it out and there is no punishment."

Although Currey was strong on discipline during his days, he was no taskmaster. But he firmly believed in running a tight ship and advised his faculty to use the proper methods to do so. Along the way, he earned a reputation among former students for being firm but fair.

Today, it's nearly impossible to juggle discipline and earn the entire respect of the public school system.

"The people had respect for the local principal years ago. They knew him, he attended the civic organization meetings and lived in the community. I guess the change is that, today, no one respects authority. You see authority and you challenge it," Currey said. "That's not just the schools, that's society in general."

Currey said the lack of respect puts teachers in a bind. Not only are teachers finding it difficult to administer discipline, they fear repercussions when they do.

"To a certain extent, your hands are tied by procedures. These procedures are set up by the state and, to a certain extent, by local boards of education," Currey said. "You try to make them uniform throughout the county, but it's tough. Plus, there's always the fear of a lawsuit for a teacher."

In today's world of "sue at all costs," the education world has not been spared, making things more difficult for educators.

"It's always in the back of their minds," Currey said of lawsuits. "Sometimes they hesitate to do anything at all. Because of that, teachers put up with a lot of distractions in the classroom."

Updated January 23, 1997
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Transitional School offers new option

Editor's Note:Editor's Note: For students in Harrison County who are one step away from suspension or expulsion, the newly created Transitional School may be the answer. The school, spotlighted in the final part of the series "Order in the Classroom," provides a handful of students with the individualized attention that may help to return to a regular classroom setting.


For years, students with continued patterns of being disruptive and non-cooperative in the classroom left educators with few options.

Teachers could either tolerate the behavior or suggest expulsion. Tolerating the behavior hampered the development of others in the classroom. Expulsion usually led to homebound instruction that placed an unfair burden on taxpayers.

Starting at the end of September, a new option became available for students in Harrison County. The opening of the Transitional School Program gives teachers, administrators, parents and students an additional assist.

Now, a handful of behaviorally troubled youths spend 3:30-6:30 p.m. Monday through Thursday in the Harrison County Transitional School in the United Technical Center building. During that time, up to 15 students receive individualized and personal attention from two teachers.

"This was set up to provide the majority of the troubled students a more conducive learning environment," Principal Robert "Bob" Loretta said. "Students who were causing disruptive behaviors in their home high schools and were in situations where they were probably going to be referred to the superintendent for expulsion now have a chance to rehabilitate their disruptive behaviors. We want them to learn some coping skills and, hopefully, be transitioned back to their home high schools and see a successful completion of their high school education."

Although the Transitional School is barely four months old, Loretta said feedback has been positive. He said students, high schools and parents of those in the school have shown an appreciation for the school's efforts.

Not just anybody attends the Transitional School. The county has established eligibility criteria.

For starters, the school is open to students in grades seven through 12 who have disciplinary records indicating excessive violations of Harrison County Schools and Buses Discipline Policies. It also includes students who may be at-risk to violate the Safe Schools Act.

Students or parents can't submit themselves or their children for the schooling. They have to be referred through an established set of guidelines.

The school makes the recommendation to the county superintendent, and the recommendation has to be approved by a committee. A meeting is held involving representatives from the transitional school, the referral school, the county office and the student's parent or guardian.

At the meeting, expectations are spelled out and a documented agreement is reached. All participants sign the agreement to assure there are no surprises.

Lorretta doesn't want people to get the idea the school is housing students who have brought weapons to school and are ready to rumble at the drop of a dime. The school does not, and can not, take in some students who have to take homebound instruction.

There are state-mandated rules on behavior that call for a student to be expelled immediately, leaving the Transitional School without a chance to help. Students possessing a deadly weapon, causing battery upon a school employee or selling narcotic drugs on school premises, functions or buses are expelled immediately.

The Transitional School's goal is to stop any of that from happening. And it does do that in many ways.

Along with teachers providing individualized attention, a juvenile probation officer, local agencies and interns from Fairmont State College and West Virginia University assist in the effort to return the youths back to their home schools.

With everybody involved, the staff hopes to complete the program for the students. But three things have to be determined before the schooling is finished and reassignment to the regular school setting is considered. The staff has to determine if the student has reduced disruptive behavior; improved self-concept, self-acceptance and understanding of self, and improved attendance. If these three criteria are met, students are usually reassigned to their home schools at the beginning of a six-week grading period.

Not all students will make it back to their regular classrooms. For many older disruptive students who have little or no hope of attaining the required units to get a high school diploma, the G.E.D. (general equivalency diploma) is stressed. In fact, a preparation class has been developed for the G.E.D. test.

"In the end, I think everyone here has the same goal," Loretta added. "We want to keep these students off our dropout list."

Loretta praised Diane Wallace and Caroline Kwiatkowski for their work in the program.

"Their feeling is that every student can be saved. They believe they can provide them with an environment that the students feel secure in," Loretta said.

Updated January 25, 1997
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State officials liked Transitional School idea


Rocky Balboa wasn't involved and there was no physical contact, but the Harrison County Board of Education scored a knockout last summer.

The county tasked itself with getting $50,000 from money made available by the state Legislature for alternative education programs. Although it may not sound like much in the government scheme of things, just $200,000 was earmarked for all school districts statewide wishing to submit grant applications.

Several districts lined up for a shot at the cash. In fact, Harrison was one of 28 counties competing for the $200,000.

Surprisingly, the county was awarded every penny it asked for.

"I think it says something when one of the 28 counties took 25 percent of the money available," said Don Knicely, administrative assistant for Harrison County Schools. "We had an idea and we thought it would work involving disruptive or uncooperative students."

That idea was the newly opened Transitional School.

"We knew the Legislature may be heading this way with some money," said Knicely. "We knew if we were going to be competing for that money that we would have to design something that would work and would be different."

The Transitional School was based on the idea that students who become disruptive, uncooperative and eventually drop out present problems for both schools and the community. Knicely said students who drop out of school have a higher chance of ending up in the prison or welfare system.

In just three weeks, a grant application was put together explaining the idea of the Transitional School and how it would help schools and the community. Along with Knicely, Bob Loretta, Trina Vitello, Cindy Fazzini and Judy Schillace worked during the spring to get the application ready.

"That was the core team and we worked well together," Knicely said. "Without the full amount or a substantial amount of what we requested, I don't think we would have been able to afford to get this program started."

The money was a one-time grant and was used to start the program. Knicely is hopeful the Legislature will provide additional funding avenues for alternative education programs and their maintenance in the future.

Knicely said 17 students have been placed in the Transitional School since it opened in September. Of that total, he said, only two have dropped out.

"Statistics such as that may be our greatest asset in the future for acquiring funds," Knicely said. "Most of these kids would have dropped out."

Harrison County officials hope the Transitional School format will become a trend statewide and help reduce dropout numbers in all 55 counties.

"Part of our grant application was that we were willing to share with other counties our model and the results of what we've done," Knicely said. "The early results are that we've done well."

Updated January 25, 1997
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