Readers Respond: Does Madison Heights' Discipline Policy Go Too Far?

Readers Respond: Does Madison Heights' Discipline Policy Go Too Far?
Photo on left: Stephanie Vasquez. Photo on right: Antonia Farzan.
A lot of Phoenix New Times readers had strong opinions about the story we published last week, which revealed that Madison Heights Elementary School was putting students in a small closet-like space as a punishment for disruptive behavior.

Most of the reactions fell into one of two categories: Either you were horrified by the practice, or you didn't see what the big deal was.
According to our social media editor, Dillon Rosenblatt, commenters on Facebook seemed to be split 50/50. On Twitter, however, our extremely unscientific poll indicated that 75 percent of the 100-plus people who voted thought that this form of punishment was excessive.

Here's a sampling of what readers had to say:

"Just to clarify, if a parent does this and it is reported to CPS it is considered child abuse, and if a school does it it's, what, somehow not child abuse?" — David Rogalski, via Facebook.

"Reading through these comments, it makes me mad that some people haven't even read the article. People, don't read the headlines and jump to an opinion. The room has no door and is visible. This article is giving Madison Heights, a VERY good school with some of the most amazing teachers, a bad rap. ALL children need discipline, every action has a consequence. That is life! I feel it is perfectly acceptable to remove a disruptive child from a bad situation and asking them to sit out for 10-15 minutes till they cool off. I stand strongly behind Principal Gossett and her words, most schools would be so lucky to have someone like her and the many teachers at our school. Our teachers take a vested interest in our kids and their education, the really care about our kids. I think should be appreciative that they have step in place to help certain kids gather themselves and think quietly about their behavior." — Jacqueline Bosque-Diaz, via Facebook.

"This was done to me in kindergarten. If it happened to my daughter, I'd be in that school like Liam Neeson." —Kevin Moyers, via Twitter.

"I remember when I was in junior high they put me in one of these rooms for four days of in-school suspension. It is still one of my favorite school related memories. Not only did I get all my school work done, I didn't have to deal with the bullies that week and I became friends with the school security guard. I think if your kids can't handle the consequences of his or her actions, that's the fault of their parents being too protective and/or having the lack of balls required to raise your children to accept the fact that life sucks sometimes, but it's whatever you make of the situation that counts." — Mick Shaman, via Facebook.

"I went to Madison Heights when I was a child, from 1992 to 1996, and remember being sat in that room for hours. I was even served lunch on a couple times in there. The rooms were right off the office and there were two of them. You had to face away from the door and not look out the window. My mind would drift and wander as the time crept by. The thing that got me out of those room was pretending to have ADD and to take Ritalin. It is shame that this practice is still going on." — Joe (last name withheld by request) via email.

"Both my sons attended Madison Heights and both of them were in this closet at least once. I was there once when one of my sons went in there. He needed a cooling off period because he was being a disrespectful little brat. Because I had two children in Heights, I can tell you it is a wonderful school with fabulous teachers and staff who truly care about the whole child. My sons are well adjusted, polite young men who really are a credit to society. Part of that I attribute to the education and occasional discipline they received at Madison Heights. I loved this school!" — Nichol Runft, via Facebook.

“I think the parents that are saying this is being blown of of proportion are not the ones that are being affected. It’s definitely wrong, and it’s definitely a trend. Arizona has a high rate of students who have what are known ACEs — adverse childhood experiences. You have all these kids who’ve experienced trauma in schools, and obviously they’re going to act out, so we need to rethink how we’re disciplining them.” — Anabel Maldonado, an organizer with the ACLU of Arizona’s #Demand2Learn campaign.

"These articles are worded in a way [intended] to start controversy. People are so damn sensitive now it's scary. Time-outs are too harsh now and also cause psychological damage? There is no door on the room and it looks well-lit. It's most likely in the office as it is used as a waiting room to see the principal. I remember having to sit in a room for a bit to quietly work on school work or fill out a form to reflect on my actions." — Daniel Gomez, via Facebook.

"I read the article. I support a cool-down space and have a child who has had to use it frequently over the years. A room with black painted walls and visible to everyone is horrible and damaging. There are many other more effective ways to discipline or help a disruptive child. At least paint the friggin' walls a soothing color and move the space so that not everyone walking by the office can see! Redfield Elementary School in Scottsdale has quiet spaces in each of the classrooms that kids can opt to use or be asked to use. If the child needs to be removed then there is a private area beside the principal's office which overlooks the library. There are privacy desks set up. It is a calming space. This black room Madison has is a dark and menacing looking space." — Heidi Parmenter, via Facebook.

"My son went to this school and it's an amazing school. There are two 'rooms' next to each other like this with NO doors and directly in front of the vice principal's office which has a huge window to see into those 'rooms' and is also within a couple feet of office admins, principal and nurse's office. If they sit in front of the office and hallways, the kids act out ... trust me, I have seen it. These kiddos are waiting for the VP and/or [their] parents when the VP has others in her office. They sit there to keep from being disruptive to others until they're talked to. The school shows the utmost respect and care when 'disciplining' these kiddos. They have NO negative discipline protocols, it's all positive prior to getting to that 'room/closet.' I've been to other schools that do nothing to discipline and had to remove my kid from them so he could focus and learn properly because of horribly disruptive children that had no consequences. I love this school and trust me, they're very kind with their approach to discipline. There are a few (positive-based) steps in the classroom before they even get to the vice principal." — Angela Krupczak Barroso, via Facebook.

The final words go to Christine Davis of Arizonans for Recess, whose kids have attended Madison Heights for a decade.  She wrote in an email:

"I'm a parent, school wellness advocate, and career prosecutor. I take a real interest in how and why schools punish our future citizenry, especially given the data on disproportionate school punishment of minority and disabled students, and especially as our schools are increasingly crushed by underfunding, overcrowding, and diminished whole child best practices over the last two decades, due to well-intended but shortsighted school accountability formulas. It's really a perfect storm.

Regarding the single-occupant timeout spaces off the office at Heights, they used to bother me too. For years when I visited the school, I saw students, usually boys, often black or Hispanic, sitting alone in them, clearly not free to leave irrespective of a door. Whether they were waiting for an available adult to redirect, or serving a detention, I cannot say, and that does not seem relevant to ARS 15-105. I never saw a child in there to contain his imminent threat/danger, which does not mean the rooms were never used for that lawful purpose. I thought that the school had ceased using the rooms for punishment or exclusion in the last couple of years and I still think that use is down since the district adopted a positive behavior intervention model of school discipline. I'm surprised the Principal, who I know to care for her students, did not mention this.

Really, individual emotional reaction to the small timeout rooms is irrelevant. They bother some. They do not bother others. Some might be fine with a return to corner-standing or even spanking. Some prefer to defer completely to school admin for student discipline while others may have reason to trust less completely. Still others may opine only in the limited context of their own children, uninterested in or disbelieving of more global stats. What really matters is whether the school is using the rooms consistent with what the law and district policy allow. I don't know that we've had clarity on that question. Although I did hear the rooms were recently converted to storage units. I have not independently confirmed that. I am also aware that Madison leadership recently attended a conference on the restorative justice model of school discipline, and was favorable. I am encouraged by this. Awareness is key to progress and implementation of best practices."
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Antonia Noori Farzan is a staff writer at New Times and an honors graduate of Columbia University's Graduate School of Journalism. Before moving to Arizona, she worked for the New Times Broward-Palm Beach.