By Mike Scott
“It’s a perfect storm of conditions that have made a difficult situation even more difficult,” Clark County R-1 Middle School Principal Jason Church told CCR-1 School Board members during their Thursday, April 15 meeting.
“Discipline issues have escalated in every building in the district,” he added.
Among the leading problems at the Middle School is vaping, or the use of an e-cigarette or similar device.
“Kids are not stupid. Vaping has no odor or smell, and the devices are small enough to be kept inside their clothes, so we can’t find them,” Church said.
“It also emboldens some of them to push the envelope in other areas,” he added. One of those areas is marijuana usage, which has seen an uptick at the Middle School.
“Discipline issues have skyrocketed,” said Superintendent Dr. Ritchie Kracht.
Kracht told board members that while in the Middle School recently, he saw a student push and trip another student in the gym. While he was taking that student to the office, another student jumped on tables in the commons while on the way to the bathroom.
Vandalism is also a regular occurrence in the school’s bathrooms. Toilets are intentionally plugged, and anything that can be broken is broken. Recently, someone has been forcing themselves to vomit on the floor.
Vandalism isn’t confined to the Middle School. Black Hawk Elementary Principal Betsy Parrish has also seen a spike, even among Kindergarten students.
Out-of-school suspensions have risen at the Middle School.
“Parents are supportive, but seem to be at a loss of what to do about it,” Church said.
“Our job is to teach the right behavior,” Church said. “But there also has to be consequences for their actions.”
The COVID-19 pandemic, and all the missed educational time, is definitely a factor in the rise of discipline problems.
“Many haven’t made the transition back into the classrooms,” Church said. “Some still think that assignments are optional.”
More adult supervision would help, but it has become increasing difficult to hire substitute teachers and qualified paraprofessionals.
“Retired teachers have the skills and experience to deal with these issues, but there are not a lot of people signing up to earn $75 dollars to spend a day with jerks,” Church said.
“Staff is a major factor with discipline,” said High School Principal Jason Harper. “We need consistency and everyone working together. We also need to make sure we do our best to keep the best working environment we can, to keep staff.”
Harper also expressed concern about educational loss.
“All these kids have missed half a year of school. Our ACT scores are down 1.5 points,” he said.
The discipline problems keep the building principals so busy, they often don’t have time for classroom visits to observe teachers.
“Going forward, we need them (principals) to be educational leaders,” said Kracht.
“We have the only secondary buildings in the Clarence Cannon Conference without an assistance principal,” said Harper. Clark County is also the only CCC school where a principal serves as Athletic Director, or that administrators frequently drive bus routes.
“We have tried to stretch our dollars and personnel as far as possible,” said Church.
“At some point, we’re going to have to spend money to address this,” said board member Heather Weber Webster. “We need to start working on a plan for that.”
“The problem isn’t going to go away,” said Church. He noted that several other area school districts have been dealing with these types of discipline issues for several years, and they have finally reached Clark County.