Indiana, PA - Indiana County

LESLIE POSTON: What Indiana School District can learn

on April 28, 2013 4:00 AM

I’m saddened by the recent bad decisions made by students at Indiana High School, which ultimately led to their expulsion and current litigation against the school district.

Bad decisions can be expected from children, especially teenagers, as part of growing up. Thoughtful educators and parents know that failure can be very important in the learning process. When we fall off the bike that we’re learning to ride, we don’t throw away the bike. We get back on and start again, until we learn. It’s important to reflect on what we’re doing wrong, how we’ve failed, and what we can learn, to eventually achieve success.

The students failed in obvious ways: They broke the law, failed to follow school rules and be the leaders and role models they were elected to be. They failed to consider the consequences of their actions, including the ways it affected their families, school and future opportunities.

But the students are not the only ones who have failed. Adults in this case have made some poor decisions as well. We, as parents, educators and school leaders, should be reflecting on how we failed and what we can learn.

We failed to anticipate a situation where risky behavior was likely and take proper precautions.

We failed to provide adequate supervision or male chaperones to a sizable group of male students.

We have failed in not creating a sensible discipline policy by which only violent offenders are permanently separated from school. Expulsion from school is never appropriate for children who aren’t dangerous to others, especially when applied to a first offense.

No one would argue that these students shouldn’t be disciplined. Their offense was severe and their actions must have consequences, including a school suspension, and removal from leadership and extracurricular activities. Those activities are privileges to be earned.

But we need these future citizens to learn from their mistakes in a positive, redemptive way.

This action, this expulsion, is not discipline, it is not meant to teach. It is punitive.

What these students are learning in a very profound way is resentment for authority, and alienation from their community. Rather than formally reflecting on their choices and consequences of their actions, they are forced to focus on how to defend themselves by finding loopholes in a poorly crafted policy that has been applied unevenly.

We can all learn to do better.

Leslie Poston

White Township

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