HAMMOND — Interventions that come too late and parental apathy are the two biggest reasons for discipline problems in Tangipahoa Parish schools, a panel told a group of educators Wednesday.
The meeting — Tangipahoa’s first discipline summit — was conceived by administrators after two high-profile incidents occurred in parish public schools during the 2009-10 school year.
The first of those incidents left an eighth-grader at Nesom Middle School with a broken arm; the second involved multiple fights in a single day at Ponchatoula Junior High School.
Two panelists, who are judges, spoke up for early intervention.
“After fifth grade, the problem has already been there,” 21st Judicial District Judge Blair Edwards said. Problems need to be addressed in earlier grades, she said.
“The money needs to be in early intervention,” said Grace Gassaway, a Hammond City Court judge. “Something has got to be done.”
Gassaway also chastised school leaders for sending her too many cases that didn’t warrant legal attention.
“Quit sending me the kid who pushed somebody in the hall,” she said. “Do something about discipline in your own schools.”
Gassaway told the crowd that Tangipahoa Parish has a “parent problem.”
“We have got to get real in dealing with these parents,” she said.
The panel, made up of educators, law enforcement officers, judges, social workers, ministers and community leaders, largely agreed with the judges’ remarks.
Several stressed, as Gassaway did, dealing with problem students before they get to the legal system.
“When they come to us, they are going to jail or the Florida Parishes Juvenile Detention Center,” Hammond Police Chief Roddy Devall said.
Ponchatoula Police Chief Bry Layrisson said kids need to be in school.
“One of the worst things that you can do is suspend a kid and send him home,” Layrisson said. “There’s no discipline and structure at home.”
Tangipahoa Parish School Superintendent Mark Kolwe first floated the idea of hosting a “discipline summit” in October, after the fight at Nesom Middle School.
At the time, Kolwe said the summit would bring together various leaders in the community to discuss the issue.
In April, eight students were involved in fights in a single day at Ponchatoula Junior High School, Assistant Superintendent Lionel Jackson confirmed.
The school system has been grappling with discipline at a policy level since last fall, when, in order to reduce suspensions of students with disabilities, the district lessened penalties for fighting.
But after the Nesom Middle School incident, administrators re-tightened the policies.
Suspensions for fighting during the 2010-11 school year increased by nearly 24 percent over the previous year, according to records provided by the school system.
In nearly every other category, disciplinary actions were down, leading to an overall 11 percent reduction in discipline referrals, the documents show.
Jackson said that work remains to be done, but that the summit was a good first step.
“We can’t do this by ourselves,” Jackson said. “We have begun a dialogue here.”