MERIDIAN, Mississippi — Meridian's school superintendent says it's not true that discipline rules stemming from a lawsuit settlement are driving away teachers.
State Rep. Charles Young Jr., a Meridian Democrat, asserted last week that many teachers were leaving because they could no longer effectively control students.
"The plan they put in place is not going to work. Period. DOJ came in here and made it worse," he said at a meeting of local governments. "It's time for us to take control of our own situation. There's no nice way to put it. I've never seen anything this bad."
But Superintendent Alvin Taylor told The Meridian Star (http://bit.ly/1bg0LwK) that fewer teachers have left so far this year than in the previous three school years. About 2 percent of the district's teachers have left during the first four months of school, Taylor said Friday.
"It's coming down, not going up," Taylor said of turnover.
The Justice Department sued the city of Meridian and Lauderdale County in 2012, saying students were being improperly arrested for minor infractions like flatulence or vulgar language. The school district started a discipline program called Positive Behavioral Interventions and Supports in 2012-2013.
"The core of PBIS is that, for minor offenses, that the teacher's first reaction is not to put them out of class or put them out of school, but to try to work with them," Taylor said. "Good teachers have been doing that for decades. We all had experiences where we know we got into trouble and that teacher could have sent us to the principal's office, but they didn't. They talked to us and they worked with us and we love those teachers to this day."
The consent decree directs the school district to create a rating system for infractions and hire a director to oversee discipline policies and train teachers. It also establishes a committee to review disciplinary actions, and provides appeals when students are suspended or expelled.
Taylor said the consent decree does allow for changes, if Meridian shows it's not working. For instance, he said reports of fighting have risen in secondary schools, but are down in elementary schools.
"We can either sit here and fuss about it and fight about it and fight against the consent decree and PBIS, but all that's going to do is hurt our school district and hurt our children," Taylor said. "Or we can decide to take the high road and be positive about and say, 'Look. We know this is a challenge but we have to do this for our children.'"
Information from: The Meridian Star, http://www.meridianstar.com