Sessions vows to fix discipline

Published 12:00 am Thursday, August 31, 2000


state schools


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Staff Writer

Aug. 30, 2000 10 PM

U.S. Sen. Jeff Sessions is vowing to do his part in helping educators deal with problem students.

The Republican senator from Alabama addressed Wiregrass educators about issues concerning public schools, especially problems with the Individuals with Disability Education Act.

Of the educators present, some have been assaulted by students and some have even been threatened with deadly force.

One teacher told of the time two special education students around the age of 13 were fighting. When she bent down to help one of the students up, the other girl hit her for helping the other student.

Another educator talked about having a known sex offender want to transfer into that school system.

Sessions, who is chairman of the sub-committee on youth violence listened intently to excerpts of discipline reports and individuals’ concerns expressed and vowed to do his part in helping make changes in Congress.

"We need to make some changes," Sessions said, agreeing with the educators present.

"I respect you. I care about what you do and want to make what you do better."

However, he admits it will not be easy because disability advocacy groups and some members of Congress are "irrationally attached to no change" in the current laws.

He said the federal government does not "trust" local schools to act in an appropriate manner.

"At some point, you’ve got to be allowed to do what you’ve got to do," Sessions said.

John Key, superintendent of the Pike County Schools, told Sessions if educators are going to be required to take care of the students who have proven to create problems, then more revenue needs to be flowing into the schools.

"These children learn very quickly how to work the system," Key said. "We need relief to treat these children."

Linda Felton, principal of Charles Henderson High School, said the parents also are learning how the system works.

"As soon as a parent thinks something is going to happen (such as suspension), they start saying, ‘test my child,’" Felton said, adding things are different if the same problems occur at home.

"If it happens away from school, it goes into the juvenile system," Felton said.

Then, if something happens at school, the school has to continue offering services to that student.

Allen Miller, superintendent of the Opp City Schools, discussed the "great legacy" of education in the United States and how it won’t continue if the same things are allowed to take place.

"Are we really treating these children right when we say, ‘you’re not responsible (for your actions)?’" he questioned.

In his experience the "problem" students are not those who have special needs, but those who have learned what the system allows.

"The only children who have rights are those Congress has given rights to," Miller said.

Sessions agreed that the laws should be changed.

"Maybe we do need more complicated language," Sessions said, adding it is not only a problem in Alabama.

Sessions said some of the legal wordage does not help students and not treating the situation appropriately is doing nothing to prepare them for "the real world."

He said changes are going to take national support and he said he would "keep pushing it" and reading letters from teachers on the floor of Congress.