Of all the changes in a drastically different landscape of operating schools amid the COVID-19 pandemic, Amherst County Public Schools has noticed one positive one: a significant drop in discipline cases.
From September through December 2019, the division had 1,717 discipline incidents, said Hollie Jennings, supervisor of discipline and compliance. During the same period this school year the school system has had 44 incidents, she said.
Jennings attributes the drop to several factors, including 37% of students and families opting the Amherst Remote Academy and receiving education from home, leading to fewer students in school buildings.
The majority of discipline infractions, about 85%, involve high school and middle school students, who are in the school buildings two days a week, which Jennings said is 60% less time than they spent in the facilities last year.
“Also, because we are practicing social distancing, class sizes are significantly smaller (half the size of last year), and there is a plethora of research regarding how class size affects the learning environment and the positive outcomes of smaller student/teacher ratios,” Jennings said.
Jennings also emphasized a greater focus has been placed this year on social and emotional learning of students.
“This has been a tough year on everyone, so we have made intentional steps to not only ensure that students are receiving academic support, but that we are also supporting their social and emotional well being,” Jennings said. “For example, at all schools, teachers begin each day with a class meeting to do a check in with our students to make sure they are emotionally ready for the day.”
She noted there have been a few discipline incidents from the Amherst Remote Academy as students adjusted to a new learning environment.
“The incidents were generally technology use violations and using inappropriate language for school,” Jennings said.
In early 2019, the division launched an alternative suspension center, which puts suspended students into a program at the Amherst Education Center in Madison Heights rather than serving the suspension at home.
When no student is in the alternative suspension center its staff is used to support students in other others, according to Jennings. The center still is operating this year as an available tool for students.
“We still believe that being in school is what is best for our students. That’s why we have worked as hard as we can to offer in person learning in the safest way possible,” Jennings said.
“We want students to learn and grow from their mistakes, and the best way to help them do that is to utilize the alternative suspension center to keep students in school and provide them with the support to learn from the incident and to make better choices.”