Editor’s Note: Part one of this series appeared in the June 15-21, 2011 issue of The Rock River Times
By Bill Lee
One of the most contentious policies is mandatory ID cards for middle and high school students. Last year, Superintendent Sheffield distributed a memo that stated, “All students must wear their identification badge above the waist; preferably on a lanyard…drivers will no longer permit middle school and high school students to board buses without properly displayed ID’s.” The director of transportation reiterated this policy in a memo that stated, “There is no leeway.” After much consternation and public outcry, CEO Todd Schmidt sent out a memo where he claims, “Since we have been getting good cooperation from the students, we can now give them some leeway.” There is still posted on many buses a sign that boldly states, “NO ID, NO RIDE, NO EXCEPTIONS.”
Everyone knows by now that this claim is a fiction that is haphazardly, selectively and inconsistently enforced. At West, one girl said she didn’t need an ID and sat down. A school employee came to the bus and said to her, “Honey, why don’t you have your ID card?” and then said to me, “I’ll vouch for her. She can ride the bus.” Same thing happens at Kennedy. At Auburn, the written policy, per principal directive, is that students must present a pass and ID to ride the bus for after-school activities. One student gave me a blue pass with the name “Johnny Q.”
When I asked for an ID card, he waved his hand dismissively and went to the back of the bus. I called it in on the radio and was given the response, “You shouldn’t have let him on the bus.” You see, the whole issue of standards and ID cards will not work unless all district employees are involved and committed. If you are the only one trying to enforce a written directive—you are the problem. I have been called “petty” for attempting to enforce RPS 205 policy. For me, there are practical reasons for seeing an ID card.
First, you will find that those without ID cards are more irresponsible and most likely to be the troublemakers.
Second, when you have a name, students tend to behave better and lose their anonymity when they swarm and overwhelm efforts to impose safety and discipline. (You see this phenomenon of swarming daily on the buses, and it will be more common in Rockford. Know that it was learned in Rockford Public Schools.)
Finally, when you have a name, you can identify and report the miscreants. In addition, there is the safety issue to prevent transporting someone to school intent on doing others harm inside and outside the building.
You may think that the dress codes and ID card policies are petty, but the fact is, you can’t have a “World Class” education system with Third World standards of behavior. How will they be able to accomplish more difficult tasks if they can’t even dress properly or control an ID card? The larger issue to consider is what sort of adults are we molding? What social skills are we instilling or retarding? Remember, these future adults are the ones we are counting on to pay our Social Security and Medicare, and protect our nation from within and without. Even if those we keep in school are learning enough to get a job (they aren’t), they don’t have the social skills to stay employed.
At the appropriately-named Leadership and Learning Academy (LALA), an administrator handed a student a document. The student glanced at it, crumpled it up and dropped it on the floor. The response? Mr. Administrator admonished him to pick it up and take it home to show his mother. When he was ignored, he said, “Hey, let me get it for you,” then picked it up, unfolded it and handed it to him.
My solutions to issues with Rockford Public Schools are these:
1. Enforce standards. How can we expect students to have the discipline to read, pay attention, and do homework when we do not even ask them to cover up their underwear, stop fondling themselves and carry an ID card?
2. Enforce discipline. If any scholar disrespects or fails to comply with a directive from an RPS 205 employee, it is a suspension or some other appropriate penalty.
3. Establish a “Last-Chance” school. Here, incorrigibles would be put on probation and can be returned to a regular school with good behavior. Transportation to this school would be the responsibility of the parent/guardian.
4. Local schools and true school choice. Quit busing kids all over town. We are asking parents to be involved in their schools, but make it inconvenient for them to visit.
How can we expect children to have a connection with their school when we take them away from their neighborhood and friends and transplant them across town? Around the year 2000, Chief of Staff of the Army Gen. Shinseki attended a Ranger School graduation. He was so impressed by the sharp appearance of the Rangers that he mandated black berets to be worn by all soldiers.
Likewise, many in Rockford think that the mere location of a building will improve student learning. However, without improved standards and behavior modification, these children will and do bring their social pathologies with them. There is nothing magical about the location of a building; it is what occurs inside that matters.
5. Support from the school. Teachers or administrators need to be outside with the buses from the time they arrive until all depart. They must be available to identify students and enforce standards. Further, if we care so much about the children, why do we keep them outside on the coldest of days, until just 10 minutes before class time? Is it because the kids are so out of control that we cannot trust them indoors and don’t want to pay for the additional security?
Pretending to have standards is especially unfair to those who actually believe they are real, and causes confusion and consternation for everyone. If you don’t want to have standards, that’s fine. We should just end the fiction that they exist. That only allows us to be lazy and blame other irrelevant reasons for our problems. Perhaps you believe that bus drivers are unimportant people who deserve this abuse. Maybe this is true, but consider this: what is happening in the public schools and in the buses is a precursor to the future of Rockford, and it is coming to a neighborhood near you.
Bill Lee, an Auburn graduate, is a bus driver of the Rockford Public School District 205.
From the June 22-28 issue