January 5, 2004

Debating the Consequences of Disruptive Behavior in School

Grades:  6-8, 9-12

Subjects:  Civics, Social Studies

Related New York Times Article
"Unruly Students Facing Arrest, Not Detention, By SARA RIMER", January 5, 2004

Overview of Lesson Plan:: In this lesson, students will consider disruptive school behavior and how school districts in several states are turning to the juvenile justice system for help. Then, students will debate this issue from a variety of perspectives, and write a paper examining their own feelings about it.

1 hour

Students will:

  1. Examine their expectations of why a student misbehaves, and how a teacher should respond.
  2. Consider punishments for students who misbehave in school by reading and discussing the article, "Unruly Students Facing Arrest, Not Detention."
  3. Explore a variety of viewpoints and opinions regarding student discipline and the juvenile justice system in an organized "ball-toss debate."
  4. Synthesize their understanding of the arguments for and against the use of the juvenile justice system as a way to discipline school offenses, and consider how mental health and ethnicity play a role in this issue.


Note to Teachers: In this lesson, a student will be asked to role-play a scenario in which he or she misbehaves during a routine class procedure at the beginning of class, such as while taking attendance, reciting the pledge or collecting homework. The teacher will then give an impromptu response. This scene should be brief and involve no more than two or three interactions between the student and teacher. The scenario could be as simple as a student calling out and talking back, or as complex as a student being offensive or storming out of the classroom.


  1. WARM-UP/DO NOW: Begin class as usual, then engage in the pre-arranged disruptive encounter with the student, as described in the Note above. Immediately afterwards, stop the class and ask the rest of the class to consider what just happened: What did the student do? What reasons may be behind the student's disruptive behavior? How did the teacher respond? How should the teacher have responded? What options are available to teachers as a course of discipline for this type of behavior?
  2. As a class, read and discuss the article, "Unruly Students Facing Arrest, Not Detention," focusing on the following questions:
    1. Why did a Toledo, Ohio city police officer handcuff a girl and take her to the Lucas County juvenile courthouse on October 17, 2003?
    2. How many students were arrested in Lucas County in October 2003 for unruly behavior at school?
    3. According to Jane Bruss, why are schools involving the juvenile justice system in school-related offenses?
    4. According to James Ray, what do these arrests do to the public's image of students?
    5. What are juvenile court judges in Ohio, Virginia, Kentucky and Florida complaining about?
    6. According to the Advancement Project, how have the juvenile arrests in Miami-Dade County, Florida, changed from 1999 to 2001?
    7. According to Andy Block of the Advancement Project, what population of students is often involved in these offenses?
    8. What policy is to blame for the growing criminalization of student misbehavior?
    9. According to Dr. Laurence Steinberg, how has the role which parents play in the school's disciplinary system changed?
    10. What other factor does Dr. Steinberg consider when looking at why more and more students are ending up in the juvenile justice system?
    11. What is the Toledo City Council's safe school ordinance?
    12. According to Craig Cotner, what other reasons are to blame for the rise in student misconduct offenses?
  3. Divide the students into six groups. Explain that they will be playing different roles in a debate about the school-related offenses based on the article "Unruly Students Facing Arrest, Not Detention." Assign each group a point of view, such as "Students," "Parents," "School Administrators," "Teachers," "Local Police" and the "Juvenile Court System." Distribute name tags and instruct students to write down the point of view that they will be representing, then have them put on the name tags. Within each group, students should divide themselves equally to represent either the pros or cons of current trends in school discipline as outlined by the article "Unruly Students Facing Arrest, Not Detention." Allow students roughly ten to fifteen minutes to prepare their arguments to support their side and assigned perspective. Encourage students to quote the article that was read during class whenever possible. Students may also want to consider who should have legal jurisdiction over school-related offenses. If time allows, students may want to conduct research on the Internet for more information. Before the actual debate begins, members of each should share all arguments from both sides to make sure they are strong and valid points.
    For the class debate, ask students from all perspectives who represent the "For" arguments to form one line, and students from all perspectives who represent the "Against" arguments to form another line. Each line should then face each other and be far enough apart to easily toss a ball between the lines. Explain that a ball (or other prop) will be used to determine who will be allowed to speak. The ball must alternate between the "For" and "Against" sides, but the different perspectives may be represented in any particular order. Students must prove that they listened to the argument that went before them by referencing the most recent idea prior to giving their reasoning for their stance on how school-related offenses are currently being handled.
    This "ball-toss debate" should continue until class time runs out or all students have had an opportunity to speak. After all the arguments have been heard, take a quick poll using a show of hands asking students the question: "Is the current strategy being used in Toledo, Ohio effective in stopping unruly student behavior?"
  4. WRAP-UP/HOMEWORK: Individually, students respond in writing to the to the following prompt (written on the board for students to copy before leaving class): "Using the information heard during the classroom debate, write a paper responding to the system being used in Toledo, Ohio's school district to combat unruly student behavior. Who do you think is legally responsible for punishing unruly students -- the schools or the juvenile court system? Why? Does the type of offense have a bearing on who should punish these students? Explain. Consider the implications of the various populations noted in the article, 'Unruly Students Facing Arrest, Not Detention,' including minority students and the learning disabled. Somewhere in your response, examine Dr. Laurence Steinberg's opinion that 'The juvenile justice system has become the dumping ground for poor minority kids with mental health and special-education problems.'"


Students will be evaluated based on initial class discussions, participation in individual and group preparation for a "ball-toss debate," thoughtful participation in the debate, and completion of a well-supported paper examining their ideas about the role of the juvenile justice system in school discipline.

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  1. Design a presentation explaining the No Child Left Behind Act. Be sure to include information about how the law came to be, as well as an explanation of what impact it has your school district.
  2. Conduct a debate examining the strategies behind a zero-tolerance policy. Besides examining the pros and cons of this type of policy, include a discussion of the types of places, circumstances, or events at which such a policy would and would be effective or appropriate.
  3. Create a student-friendly pamphlet explaining your school's discipline code. Be sure to include the rationale behind rules that students may not want to accept at face value, such as those concerning a dress code, the use of cell phones and other electronic devices at school, or appropriate and inappropriate ways to address teachers and other authority figures.
  4. Create an illustrated timeline examining the gun laws of your state or country. How have they changed over time? Are the laws becoming more or less lenient towards the sale and tracking of guns? Explain.

Fine Arts- Develop skits that illustrate the power struggle that exists between teachers and students. Students should consider a realistic scenario from the perspective of the teacher trying to gain control. Then show the same scenario from the perspective of the student who wants to make his or her opinion known.

Health- Create an oral presentation examining the link between learning disabilities and behavior. Provide techniques and strategies for parents, teachers and students that may enable students with learning disabilities to perform in a heterogeneous classroom setting.

Language Arts

Mathematics- Create a graph illustrating the amount of school-related arrests by the juvenile system in your area over the past ten years. Write a brief summary assessing its rise or fall, and include statistics of how the data has changed over various time intervals, such as two years, five years, eight years and ten years.

Media Studies- Watch a movie that deals with inequality in education, such as "Finding Forrester" (2000), "Stand and Deliver" (1988), or "Lean on Me" (1989). Write a movie review assessing the level of realism of the school's atmosphere and obstacles faced by the main characters.

Teaching With the Times- Create a scrapbook of articles about incidents of school-related violence. Include articles that illustrate a wide variety of offenses, from guns to insubordination of administrators.

Copyright 2004
The New York Times Company


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