Charter School Discipline

Memphis Academy for Health Sciences discipline practices questioned, February 25, 2009

Fast Facts:

  • Parents say Memphis Academy for Health Sciences disciplines unfairly
  • MAHS paddles students who act up in front of assembly of student body weekly
  • Charter school board member says discipline keeps school safe

Antonius Hart and his wife, Rachel wanted a good learning environment for their sons so they chose Memphis Academy for Health Sciences, a charter school. However, they're wondering if the charter school system, one that allows each individual school to set their own rules, is a good one and if more oversight isn't needed.

"It's been ran like he's a dictator, an enforcer," said Hart, the student's father.

The Harts 9th grade son was told to leave the school for good after he threw an obscene finger gesture at a teacher. First, he was paddled during what's called chapel. That's when every Friday students who misbehave are brought into an assembly and disciplined before the entire student body.

Hart said, "I guess its like some kind of primitive humiliation type thing. They whoop them in front of all of them. I guess this is to show if we enforce this right here, this is what's going to happen to you.

"After the paddling, the school decided that wasn't enough. The principal sent Hart's son a message on the son's personal cell phone. The message said, "Tomorrow you will be suspended as a result you will have to transfer from MAHS. I still can't believe what you did. It cannot be justified."

The Harts say the school should have called a parent. Plus, they say he'd already been punished once.

The director of the board for MAHS wouldn't give us an on camera interview because he says this is one situation that involves one set of parents and in doing so, it would overshadow all the good things his school is doing.

In a telephone interview Bernal Smith II told News Channel 3, "We tell our parents up front. Corporal punishment is a part of our discipline program. It's a part of what allows us to keep a safe sound environment in our school."

As for as paddling students in front of the student body, Smith said, "We use that so the rest of the students that witness that, it's a deterrent for them not to behave in the same way." The Harts believe because they have spoken out against the charter school's discipline practices, their other son, a special needs student at the school. He is currently suspended for hitting another student in the back. The Hart's says their son denies hitting anyone.

Smith won't talk about specifics concerning the Hart children but he says it is unconscionable to think anyone at the school has an axe to grind with any student.

News Channel 3 has called the Tennessee Department of Education to find out how much autonomy charter schools have when it comes to discipline. We were told the person we needed to talk to was in a conference all week. News Channel 3 will keep you posted about what they say.

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