“The isolation tables are just one small example of the impulse that has taken hold in Oregon schools to publicly shame children.”
This commentary was first published in the OregonPEN newspaper on 6/20/15.
The public was up in arms last winter when a grandparent took an iphone picture of the isolation table at a Grants Pass (Oregon) Elementary School. There is also an isolation table at my First Grader’s school, Morningside Elementary in Salem. I tried to take a picture of it and Salam Noor, then-Deputy Superintendent of the Salem-Keizer School District, sent a policeman to my door at 7:00 the next morning threatening to have me arrested.
Now Governor Brown has nominated Mr. Noor to be Superintendent of all of the public schools in Oregon. Is this what we want for Oregon schools? The isolation tables are just one small example of the impulse that has taken hold in Oregon schools to publicly shame children. And since Oregon routinely ranks near the bottom in the nation for the quality of its education, the shaming doesn’t appear to achieve any goal other than to harm the children involved.
The isolation table in Grants Pass was intended to shame the child for repeatedly being tardy. If an elementary school kid is tardy, that’s the parents’ problem – who would think to punish the child? At Morningside Elementary in Salem, as I leave the school after dropping off my son, I see the same ragtag groups of kids come in late every day; I see their parents screeching their cars up to the door, shoving the kids out of the car, making them go in alone to face the music when it's the parents' fault when little kids are late.
One day I brought my son in late and as I walked past the office, I heard a snarl that stopped me. The head of the office staff barked out the office into the hallway, "I see you [name!] Don't think you can hide from me! GET IN HERE and get your tardy slip!" One by one she shamed those kids whose parents always bring them late, and yelled at them in a tone that made me want to call Child Protective Services.
At Morningside Elementary in Salem, another hostile woman polices the lunchroom and threatens to send any kid who looks at her the wrong way to the isolation table. She has no teaching license, no education experience – yet she is allowed to patrol the lunchroom like a police warden – looking for trouble.
One Dad told me the way they run the school reminds him of the army. Another Dad told me that our grade school reminded him of being in jail (I assumed he was in a position to know.)
My son, a First Grader who his teacher says is a “leader in the class” and well-liked among students, tried to help a disabled girl in his class one day at lunch. She is an adorable girl who happens to be a "little person" and has trouble walking. My son got up to get this girl a spoon, without permission from the warden, and the warden ordered him to the isolation table. My son told me, “She yelled at me and told me to get my things, go sit at the isolation table, and not to speak or look at anyone for the rest of lunch.”
While the kids line up for lunch, they are forbidden to talk to each other. I have gone to have lunch with my son and watched first graders made to stand five minutes in line and scolded at for even whispering to another student. Try standing for five full minutes some time next to two other people without looking or talking to them -- and then imagine a six year-old being expected to do that every day.
The students in my son's first grade class were forbidden from talking to or even greeting each other in the morning before the bell rang; the teacher scolded them if they didn't remain mute and start their work if they came into the classroom before the bell rang. I am one of the few parents to know this happens because I ignored the letter the principal, Bonney Dietrich, sent to all parents asking them not to come into the school anymore with their children.
The 'recess police' punish six year-olds who don't stay mute and form perfectly straight lines
The children are told they cannot talk to other children until recess, which is 15 minutes long. And yet, recess is routinely withheld -- the chance for six year-olds to play is constantly dangled over their head as punishment. In my son's Kindergarten class, recess was routinely withheld from the whole class if even even one student didn't finish his work. So the children who do finish their work are punished right along with the children who don't.
Then there is what my son calls the "recess police" who blow the whistle at the end of recess and scold children who don't stand perfectly quiet in perfectly straight lines before they can walk back into the building. The class with the most perfect and most quiet line gets to re-enter the building first. This shameful drill is imposed on our six year-olds every day. My son stepped out of line one day and the recess police, yet another hostile woman, sent him to stand against the wall and then told hm he would lose half of his recess the next day, which meant he had to sit on the "shame steps" in front of all the students in the cafeteria, next to the isolation table, after he was done eating.
If they treat six year-olds this way, is it any wonder they feel comfortable sending police officers to parents' doors?
I tried to call the school district's attention to the many abusive actions going on in my son’s school. There was the orchestra teacher who shoved an eight year-old – in front of other staff; he grabbed her from behind by her shoulders and shoved her. The girl had run crying from his room, scared of him and ran to the office; this grown man ran down the hall chasing after her, and shoved her in front of many other adults. After this, the principal refused to do anything about it. The principal told the family the girl was “fine.” One of the adult witnesses to the shoving contacted the parents and told them the girl wasn’t fine and told the parents they had a right to demand something be done. Only when the parents went over the principal’s head did the incident get reported, after which the orchestra teacher was suspended and then fired. If the principal had had her way, that teacher would still be at the school, in control of our children.
After this incident, the principal retaliated against the reporting family by sending the same police officer they sent to my door, to their older son’s class in middle school. The principal -- of the grade school - sent an email directing the police officer to take this family's older son out of his class at middle school, and tell him the principal was banning him from the grounds of the grade school because some older kids told the principal he was causing trouble. The principal did not talk to the family or attempt to investigate the incident at all; based on a story told to her by a few middle school kids, she sent a police officer to scare this 7th grader in front of all of his friends. I can't prove she did this to retaliate against the family that went over her head about the orchestra teacher shoving their younger daughter, but common sense struggles to find any other motivation.