When\u2019s the right time to discipline middle school students? During academic class time or after school? What about during the 20-minute recess allotted for Ridgefield tweens and teens? It was a question that generated almost an hour-long dialogue at the Board of Education meeting on Sept. 23. \u201cDevelopmentally speaking, we think it\u2019s best to have these conversations right when the mistakes are made during the day. ... It\u2019s very pertinent to do it in the moment. It\u2019s more effective than waiting hours until after school or pulling them out of the classroom during academic time,\u201d said Scotts Ridge Middle School Principal Tim Salem. \u201cOur students use the time to reflect on their actions and take ownership of them. And that\u2019s how they learn to grow.\u201d Salem, who presented his case alongside East Ridge Middle School Principal Patricia Raneri, said that after school detentions were the only alternative to intervening during the school\u2019s recess time. \u201cWe\u2019re not going to pull them out of the classroom unless it\u2019s something that\u2019s really serious, and it\u2019s punitive to do it after school. ... We don\u2019t want to go that route if we can avoid it,\u201d Salem explained. \u201c... We have a strong opportunity to do this during the day, during non-academic times.\u201d Salem and Raneri were giving feedback on a draft of the district\u2019s \u201cPhysical Activity and Student Discipline\u201d policy that had been presented at a school board meeting on Sept. 9 and that they had felt went beyond statutory requirements. Per state statutes, the district is required to have a policy that prevents schools from pulling kindergarten through fifth grade students out of recess and bringing them back into the building for disciplinary reasons. At the Sept. 9 meeting, the school board had decided to extend the drafted policy to include middle school students. \u201cThe middle school administration was making the case about why they believed the board should not include the middle schools in the new policy,\u201d explained chairwoman Margaret Stamatis. \u201cSo the discussion wasn\u2019t about changing an existing policy, it was about not going beyond the statutory requirement of K-5 to include grades 6, 7 and 8 in a new policy.\u201d \u2018Social drama\u2019 A few board members felt uncomfortable pulling middle school students from recess. \u201cMy concern is that they need that mental break to socialize and be kids. If we\u2019re pulling them back into the building, then they\u2019re not going to have enough time outside and that could create a negative impact,\u201d said Carina Borgia-Drake. Salem countered that the \u201cinterventions\u201d during recess were not something that dragged on. \u201cIt\u2019s almost always one conversation and its finished \u201410 minutes maximum, and it\u2019s a minor number of incidents,\u201d he said. \u201c ... We had one parent come in today and we used the recess time to bring in three kids. We had a discussion and all the parties were satisfied with what was said and the apologies that were given, and we all moved on. The parent was very happy with how we handled it.\u201d Raneri added that not every conversation happened in the school\u2019s central office and that not every conversation was disciplinary in nature. \u201cAnyone who\u2019s had a middle school kid knows there\u2019s always a little social drama,\u201d she said. \u201c... What we\u2019re talking about is more managing emotions and having guided conversations. \u201c...This is a much better way of intervening than pulling students out of the classroom or having them stay after school, which creates distractions.\u201d \u201cThe other students don\u2019t even notice they\u2019re not at recess, it\u2019s that quick,\u201d Salem said. \u201c... When they have to stay after school, everyone notices.\u201d Need for flexibility Both principals said they viewed the drafted student discipline policy as restrictive. \u201cHaving the flexibility is vital to us,\u201d Salem said. \u201cThe way that the current policy is worded handcuffs us. It\u2019s important that there\u2019s time during the day to have conversations that are developmentally appropriate.\u201d Raneri agreed, and noted that sometimes incidents happen in the morning. \u201cIt\u2019s not necessarily something that happens at recess, it\u2019s something that could be happening throughout the day that we feel should be addressed when we all have a pause in our day,\u201d she said. \u201cIt allows us to catch up.\u201d Board member Fran Walton wondered if changing the wording in the draft might create some flexibility. \u201cMaybe not call it recess? I know the state statute says that administrators are not allowed to take away a students\u2019 recess as punishment at the K through 5 [kindergarten through fifth grade] level,\u201d she said. Walton agreed with Salem\u2019s assessment that the number of incidents that required middle school students to come in from recess were minimal. \u201cIt seems we\u2019re focusing on the exception and not the regular performance of a day,\u201d she said. \u201cOn a regular day there\u2019s a 20-minute recess. The exception is when they have to come in.\u201d \u201cAnd 95 percent of the time it\u2019s one conversation and it\u2019s over,\u201d Salem said. \u201cIt\u2019s very rare they end up back in the office. We have very brief conversations that help our students reflect, learn and grow ... We wouldn\u2019t be sitting here if we didn\u2019t believe it to be true.\u201d District\u2019s strength Salem said that the middle schools were in their third year of letting seventh and eighth graders out for a 20-minute \u201cbrain break.\u201d The district has always allotted recess time for sixth graders. He and Raneri said that building that time into the school day is what separates Ridgefield from other towns in the area. \u201cFew other districts have this time built in for kids to go outside ... we cherish giving them that mental break, and our teachers love being out there with them,\u201d Salem said. \u201cBut this is one of those situations, we have to be able to pull kids in to have these conversations.\u201d \u2018Gray area\u2019 Board members said they saw value in the midday interventions and were in favor of keeping them, but still had concerns about changing the policy. \u201cWe trust you, you\u2019re the educators,\u201d said board member Sharon D\u2019Orso. \u201cBut we don\u2019t want to change our spirit as a district, which is: We want our children playing.\u201d \u201cCan\u2019t it just be an operational decision made with the administrators\u2019 discretion?\u201d asked another board member. Salem\u2019s concern was that parents would begin to see \u201cthe gray area,\u201d and refuse to allow their kids to be brought into the building from recess. \u201cIt\u2019s going to get very difficult for us ... You\u2019re not supposed to have these meetings at recess, it\u2019ll muddy the waters,\u201d he said. The alternative? Salem said he\u2019s reached out to parents and asked them how \u2014 and when \u2014 they prefer these conversations to be held. \u201cParents have said they would much rather have them during the day then after school. They don\u2019t like picking up their kids at 3:30-4, it\u2019s not easy for them,\u201d he said. \u201cAfter school is more punitive on everybody.\u201d A board member asked if there was an alternative to disciplining kids. \u201cThe alternative is what we\u2019re doing \u2014 one quick conversation during the day,\u201d Salem said. \u201cThe problem is there\u2019s no flexibility in the wording of our policy. There\u2019s nothing that allows for a decision or action to be made based on administrator discretion.\u201d He reiterated a point from earlier. \u201cWe wouldn\u2019t have put it forward if we didn\u2019t believe this was important.\u201d After hearing from the two principals, the board agreed to take a short recess and returned with a retooled draft that declined to extend a new policy about discipline beyond the kindergarten through fifth grade requirement. \u201cStudents in sixth through eighth grade must have a brain break but we will leave it more ambiguous and create some of that flexibility you were asking for,\u201d said D\u2019Orso.