MAHOMET — The best ways to handle student behavior that may disrupt learning were the focus of a Mahomet-Seymour panel that offered its recommendations to the board of education on April 1.
“We have a lot of kids who bring a lot of baggage to our classrooms or our schools. We may never know what’s going on, but how we can help them,” said support services and special education educator Rhonda Ehrecke, who served on the committee and helped present its findings to the school board at a study session.
The Student Behavior Advisory Committee (SBAC) emerged from negotiations with the Mahomet-Seymour Education Association, and it is comprised of an equal number of administrator-selected and MSEA-nominated members.
Christine Northrup, director of special education for the district, and Ehrecke presented the panel’s suggestions to the school board. The purpose is to recommend protocols and guidelines for dealing with disruptive student behavior, protect MSEA bargaining unit members and ward off injury/assault claims.
“The goal of this committee was to provide recommendations,” Northrup said.
The committee narrowed down definitions and examples of disruptive behavior, from physical aggression to verbal aggression and elopement — skipping class or leaving school altogether without permission. They noted that these things cannot be addressed by classroom teachers alone.
“The teachers were really important in helping us identify what they really felt were the most significant ... behaviors,” Northrup said.
As was noted, a “non example” of a disruptive behavior is a student who makes noises or sings aloud in class, and such things should be addressed by classroom teachers perhaps with some support. More aggressive types of behavior require “multi-tier systems of support,” Northrup noted.
Some practices and staff development are in place already to help address student behavior issues. These include Crisis Prevention Intervention (CPI). The committee recommends, for example, that prevention and protection for all staff include making the de-escalation portion of CPI training mandatory for all staff and providing continuing professional development on behaviors specific to some student populations.
The panel also agreed that training for entire staff should include using Brian Mendler’s “Managing Difficult, Disruptive and Unresponsive Students.” All agreed-upon recommendations will be included in faculty handbooks, Ehrecke said.
“The No. 1 behavior that we see from students that we’re the most concerned about are flat-out refusals,” Northrup said.
Both educators noted that students who do not act out, but instead have “internalizing kinds of behaviors,” are more difficult to help because their actions are less noticeable.
“What stands out are those externalizing behaviors,” Northrup said.
After the presentation of the panel’s work, school board President Max McComb asked: “As a result of what we’re doing here, do we think we’re going to see a more consistent approach across our whole student population?”
Northrup said individual students still may require more individual approaches.
“What’s fair is not always equal. Not everybody needs what everybody else gets,” she said.
Superintendent Lindsay Hall chimed in, noting, “Consistency is found in consistently giving students what they need. Often it’s our students who understand that difference. Students need different things.
“The consistency is that there is follow up and support,” she said.
As part of the presentation, Ehrecke noted the big part that social media pressure plays in students’ lives in modern society.
“These kids are bullied 24/7, 365,” she said. “You say, ‘Put down social media.’ They’re not going to do that.”
That constant pressure from peers is something that most adults now never experienced growing up, Ehrecke said.
“Coping skills are lacking, and that is across the board,” Northrup said. “Anxiety is up for everybody.”