May 6, 2013 11:24 PM by Erin Steuber

Teacher Exodus Part 2: What Discipline Issues Are Lafayette Parish Facing?

Teachers are leaving the classroom in record numbers. Some cite changes at the state level, from the retirement system to teacher evaluations. But another key factor is discipline, or lack of, in the classroom. The parent of a Paul Breaux Middle School student wrote to us saying, almost every day her gifted child comes home with stories of fights and weapons. So we requested the numbers...

In total, 63 weapons have been found on campuses in Lafayette Parish so far this year. Paul Breaux Middle School ties with L.J. Alleman for the schools with the most reports of weapons on campus, each with six this year. But discipline issues are not just limited to weapons.

From dress code violations, to fights, discipline issues have proven to be a distraction in the classroom, and teachers say their inability to act on problems is forcing them to leave the profession. There have been 2,112 fights reported in Lafayette Parish schools this year. Lafayette Middle has more fights, and more students being willfully disobedient, than any other school. And the school with the most incidents, total, is Carencro High, with more than 5,325 reports of discipline issues. Compare that to the Early College Academy with 26 reports this year, the fewest in the parish.

And those numbers may not be completely accurate because teachers say, until recently, they were encouraged not to write up students. Now, Superintendent Dr. Pat Cooper says things are changing. But for several teachers it's too little, too late.

All it took was four months at Scott Middle School, and first-time teacher, Heather Darby, had enough.

"I had a student tell me he had a dream that he hit me and there was nothing I can do about it, because it was a dream," said Darby. "He told me that in front of the class, and I just wasn't prepared to deal with stuff like that."

Darby graduated from UL last May, and was eager to begin her career. But after witnessing several fights, and close calls, within her own classroom she knew it was time to get out.

"Discouraging, it was really discouraging. I felt like I really didn't have much respect as far as the students were concerned," said Darby.

This year there have been 37,528 reports of discipline infractions in Lafayette Parish schools. At middle schools and high schools throughout the parish, resource officers are placed on the campuses, like Officer Melvin Riddell over at Northside High School.

"Everyday I'm in, and out, of the classrooms talking to them," said Riddell. "They give me information, I actually give them resources and different directions to take, as far as with individual students. Whether it's a program with the police department, or the school board, whatever we can do to get the kid on the right path, that's our main objective."

Riddell says Northside's biggest discipline issues are attendance and dress code violations. He says the most important aspect of his job is acting as a mentor, by instilling discipline into students.

"By not always trying to show them what they did wrong, but trying to show them a way that I can help them, hopefully at least we save one. You can't save them all," said Riddell.

Nearly two months ago, Lafayette Parish Superintendent Dr. Pat Cooper, sent out a letter telling principals to "take control of their schools." That's after several teachers spoke up on KATC and at the school board meetings, saying the students were running the schools. After Cooper's mandate went out, he says 45 of the top discipline offenders were taken out of their schools.

"Seems like discipline issues have really quieted down. It's not to say we're still not having some issues, but I think people know that we're trying to take responsive action, and trying to take care of things quicker," said Cooper.

Cooper says the discipline matrix, which has been around since 2008, will be changing to streamline consequences.

"I really think that sends the right message to the kids, and to the teachers, that there is going to be a consequence if you don't follow the rules," said Cooper.

But changes in discipline are coming too late for more than 200 teachers leaving Lafayette Parish, and for Darby, her dreams of being a teacher have been put on hold.

"There were some really sweet good kids that I worked with that I really miss," said Darby. "There was a little feeling of guilt whenever I decided to leave because I knew I was leaving some good kids behind. But I guess the good, it just didn't outweigh the bad."

"I think we're going to handle things much more quickly. Kids are going to get the message up front in the school year, and kids behave. Kids only learn what we teach them. If we teach them that's our expectations, most of them are going to adhere to that," said Cooper.

Darby is continuing to work in education, ironically as a substitute teacher in Lafayette Parish, and as a private tutor. She is one of the more than 600 teachers that have left Acadiana schools this year.


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