When it comes to troubled kids, listen to the pros

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Today’s Dispatch carried two articles dealing with kids. The first concerns a lawsuit filed by the U.S. Department of Justice against the Ohio Department of Youth Services for punishing mentally handicapped juveniles by placing them in seclusion.  One boy was allegedly locked up alone for 21 days straight. If you’re not shocked by those allegations, you should be, and if you don’t understand why isolation is so dangerous, then you should read David Brooks’ piece about solitary confinement being more debilitating than torture.

Also on today’s front page was a story about discrimination in school discipline. During the 2009-2010 school year, male black students in central Ohio were suspended from school at a rate three times higher than for other students. Students with disabilities were suspended nearly twice as often as non-disabled students.

The situations in both stories have one thing in common: administrators reacting to troubled kids and not addressing the underlying causes for their behavior and making bad situations worse. These types of problems were the subjects of my op-ed pieces. In January 2012, I wrote about the problems with zero tolerance—discrimination and higher incarceration rates.  Last January, I explained how H.B. 334, which would give Ohio schools authority to expel for longer periods of time, will likely do more harm than good.  Zero tolerance and H.B. 334 are short-sighted, short-term fixes.

I didn’t write about these problems because I’m so smart. I’m not. I wrote about these problems because I talked with the people who were out front on these issues. The people I quoted in my op-ed pieces are members of the Ohio Poverty Law Center and the Ohio Chapter of the American Academy of Pediatrics. These are the people who understand what it takes to make a difference with kids.  Maybe we should be listening to them more.

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