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Opinion | The Inanity of Zoom School Suspensions

As schools prepare to become even more regimented by implementing protocols to prevent the spread of the virus, discipline may only grow more intense. According to Chalkbeat, in some Texas school districts, intentionally spitting, sneezing or coughing on a peer could be treated as assault.

In Shelby County, Tennessee, students will not be expected to wear uniforms, but they are expected to look “presentable regardless of the location in which learning occurs,” according to the existing dress code. “Repeat offenders” will be subject to suspension.

Dan Losen, the director of the Center for Civil Rights Remedies at UCLA’s Civil Rights Project, told me he is already finding huge discrepancies in the discipline data from large school districts.

“I’m just worried that we’re going to see a major upswing in things like referrals to police or suspensions,” Mr. Losen said. “I can imagine the administrators and staff either calling the cops more or suspending more often because even minor violations now have, at least in theory, a health risk.”

Elizabeth Hanif, a high school math teacher in Long Island, said some Zoom class rules she found online seemed unnecessary and would only exacerbate the problems with the virtual schooling. Attempting to establish rules on your own as a teacher doesn’t change a child’s behavior in substantial ways, she said. Having a relationship with them does.

“The goal is for our students to learn,” Ms. Hanif said.

Joseph D. Nelson, an education researcher whose research at the Institute for Urban and Minority Education at Columbia University’s Teachers College focuses on Black boyhood, told me that among the students he taught before the pandemic, “most of the boys were high performing,” but “bored with their other classes. They were fulfilling teachers’ expectations of them by acting out.”

Mr. Nelson says educators can use strategies like getting to know a student’s interests by intentionally forming interpersonal bonds or going beyond school curriculum to meet a student’s learning needs. That, naturally, may require more institutional investment — a different but overlapping challenge for American schools that were already overwhelmed and are now wrestling with a hodgepodge of remote work and physical returns to campus.

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