Oklahoma senator wants to punish misbehaving students with fines instead of school suspensions

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SHAWNEE, Okla. - A state senator and former teacher said there's a problem when kids misbehave in the classroom: the consequences.

"The only alternative you have is a suspension from school, which is a vacation for many of these kids," said Sen. Ron Sharp (R-Shawnee), a 38-year vet of Shawnee Schools. "And, of course, it comes from parenting problems."

So, Sharp has refiled Senate Bill 911, which would send students home with a bill when they act up in class.

Each district would have the option of creating a new procedure for superintendents, principals and vice principals to assess fines of up to $50 per incident.

The district would have to specify the circumstances under which a student could be assessed a fine and set up an appeals process.

"I think, once the child understands that the parent is going to get a $50 fine, it's just like the [old-fashioned punishment of a] paddle. It eliminated, stopped a lot of problems in advance," Sharp said. "I think two-thirds of your discipline problems will stop. They're going to listen."

Revenue from the fines would go to campus security or academic scholarships.

Students under age eight or those under individualized education programs would be exempt from the fines, and the law would also require an appeals process.

Superintendents would also need to find alternatives for parents and students who can't afford to pay.

Those alternatives would be left up to the district, but Sharp's leading suggestion is mandatory family counseling.

He also likes the idea of asking parents to come in and shadow their misbehaving students for a couple days.

"Right now, we do not have parental involvement, and we've got to get that parent involved into that child's education, and hopefully this will do that," Sharp said. "We've got to do something. The alternative is to keep on the status quo, and that is classrooms in crisis."

Educators like Ginger Tinney appreciate the idea, but the executive director of Professional Oklahoma Educators is hesitant to offer her full support.

"Certainly, we get tired of the misbehavior, and sometimes it seems to be fed by parents, honestly," she said. "But, the reality is I'm not sure legally that that's how it would really play out."

Tinney said she's worried about the fines interfering with a public education.

She also wonders whether some educators will abuse the revenue-generator.

"The reality is we need parents to support children," she said. "Our job is hard enough, and we need the children to obey us. It's pretty simple."

Like Sharp, Tinney would also be interested in letting parents shadow their students as punishment.

"They lose a day of work. That affects their pocketbook as well, but they also get to see first-hand how their child interacts and what is really going on," she said. "And, sometimes that's the eye-opener."