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Tuesday, April 8, 2008

Teaching Grade Schoolers Appropriate Behavior May Be More Productive than Punishment
Are no-tolerance sexual harassment policies for elementary students acceptable?
Ask the mother of Randy Castro, a first-grade student at a school in Woodbridge, Va., who has a disciplinary record that includes sexual harassment. She’ll tell you, “No.”

That’s because her son’s principal called the police after the six-year-old spanked a female classmate at recess, The Washington Post reported last week.

Castro’s mother said the incident did not warrant such drastic measures and contacted The Post to share her son’s story and draw attention to her district’s harsh policies. She fears her son’s record has already affected the way he is being disciplined.

“Kids can be exploratory in behavior, they can mimic what they see on TV,” Ted Feinberg, assistant director of the National Association of School Psychologists told The Post.

But when does “exploratory behavior” among peers merit more than a stern talking-to?
The Post did some investigating and discovered that Virginia suspended 255 elementary school students last year for “offensive sexual touching or ‘improper physical contact against a student.’”

Experts recommend teaching students the difference between “good touch” and “bad touch” and only severely reprimanding students when their actions reflect other inappropriate behavior.

How strict are your district’s sexual harassment policies? How many students under 12 in your district are being disciplined for something that could be part of their development? And, what are your policies regarding police intervention?

Exploring these questions could not only prevent your schools from the embarrassment of an unflattering story in a national newspaper, but also keep them from unfairly punishing kids for simply being kids.

Stacey Hollenbeck, spring intern

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