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Editorial: Elementary (school) experiment

Chronic and severe behavior problems among elementary school students have spiked alarmingly in recent years, to the point that some teachers say they fear for their safety. Last week the Rowan-Salisbury Board of Education proved it was listening by funding two classrooms devoted to these challenging students.

This is a wise and compassionate move.

The system calls these “restorative classrooms,” with a maximum of 10 students each, and puts them in the Exceptional Children’s program. Forget comparisons to in-school suspension or alternative schools. These students don’t just act up in class; they act out with meltdowns and outbursts that disrupt instruction and baffle educators. Teachers who addressed the school board on the topic said they’d rather have the restorative program than a bump in pay. That says something.

According to a Primary Sources survey conducted in 2012, some 68 percent of elementary school teachers in the same school for five or more years said behavior issues that interfere with learning had notably worsened. The same was said by 64 percent of middle school teachers and 53 percent of high school teachers. It makes sense to address behavior and emotional problems as early as possible.

Rowan-Salisbury’s two restorative classrooms would be a pilot program — an experiment of sorts. It’s not clear which school will house them, but the more critical question is staffing. In addition to a teacher and teaching assistant in each class, the recommended program includes a program coordinator, a social worker and a behavior specialist. The school system has struggled in the past to hire behavior specialists; other school systems can offer more competitive pay. The pilot program would be incomplete without a qualified person in that role. Getting disruptive students out of regular classrooms helps other students, but the troubled students should not be warehoused. This is called a “restorative” program for a reason. Ideally, students learn how to control their behavior and then return to traditional classes.

The system has a crying need to help these students help themselves — and to restore order in the classroom for all students.

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