Swearing Just One of Many Issues Facing Oswego Schools

By Bill Foley

OSWEGO – Imagine an elementary child kicking, punching or biting a teacher. Or, obscenities flying from the mouths of secondary students not only in the hallways – but in classrooms.

These are just a few things that Oswego teachers face on a day to day basis.

Recently, Oswego City School District Board of Education President Aimee Callen noted that she had received complaints from parents about discipline.

She realized there were many aspects to the problem, but felt something had to be addressed and recommended that addressing “swearing” might be the first step in addressing the issue.

Inappropriate language is definitely a problem, but there is much more to the concern over lack of discipline and respect in schools.

Oswego Superintendent of Schools Dr. Dean Goewey sat down with Oswego County Today to talk about the wide ranging scope of the problem and some ways that the district is attempting to address the situation.

He stressed that discipline is not an Oswego only issue, but has become a societal issue facing educators across the country.

He said, “It is a changing population and behavior in many cases can be attributed to trauma at home and they come to school carrying that. Swearing is the least of our concerns as we need to get them to learn to read.”

Respect has diminished in some of the student population.

Secondary teachers, who did not wish to be identified, indicated students are late for class every period, in the hallways there is disrespect for teachers and they are not listening to teacher directives, students are swearing at teachers, there is a lack of respect toward teachers with no consequences, students are choosing their punishments, teachers are not being supported by administration, good kids are afraid of bullying with no consequences and overall there is a feeling that there is a lack of support when teachers try to enforce the rules.

“You can’t suspend every child every day. We have to address bullying, drugs, chronic absenteeism and fights,” Goewey said. “They are our priority. However, we are also seeing vaping, e-cigs and Juhls and the students think they are safe, but they are dangerous.”

The superintendent, when asked what the evolution of the decline of discipline said, “It has happened gradually. But, over the past five years, it has become much more dramatic. There has been extreme behavior of regular education students. I would say five to 10% fit into this area. Our suspension rate at the high school is up tremendously. It’s frustrating and we are attempting to find solutions.”

The district has become aware of Dr. Ross Green’s efforts in Trauma Informed Research and is implementing some of the thinking.

“You can’t learn if you don’t eat meals, are abused, neglected or witness something traumatic. It’s like post traumatic stress syndrome,” the superintendent explained. “We need to deal with that and create an environment that is safe.”

Elementary teachers spend a substantial amount of time simply dealing with discipline as it only takes one or two unruly students to disrupt the educational opportunities for the rest of the class.

Some teachers in the grades nine through 12 area attribute some of the problems to the middle school where they feel students are not held accountable.

Their thoughts are that if they were held accountable they would understand the consequences when they occur at the high school level.

“The freshmen have the highest rate (of discipline problems. And, it’s worse in the Fall semester than it is the Spring,” according to the superintendent.

Continuing he said, “For the freshmen, high school is a significant change in that they are under a team program at the middle school that keeps them pretty well constricted. There isn’t a lot of movement. However, it changes dramatically for them at the high school level.”

However, State Education directives also impact schools.

“There are new laws at SED in light of suspension rates it could impact your state aid,” Goewey pointed out. “We have to come up with a way to deal with that.”

“Problems don’t always start in schools we have to find a way to address social media as well as mental health issues,” he added. “Problems that start on social media find their way into our buildings.”

The district has implemented restorative justice and Goewey explained, “We hope to add two social workers to the Oswego High School and two counselors to Fitzhugh Park.”

Restorative Justice is an approach to justice in which the response to a situation is to organize mediation between the victim and the offender, and sometimes with representatives of a wider community as well.

The goal is to negotiate for a resolution to the satisfaction of all participants.

The program aims to get offenders to take responsibility for their actions, to understand the harm they have caused, to give them an opportunity to redeem themselves and to discourage them from causing further harm.

The discipline issues aren’t strictly limited to Oswego.

Goewey said that all of the area superintendents attend regular meetings at BOCES and that his wife, who is a superintendent in Eastern New York, sees and realizes the problems.

“It is a societal problem. It is everywhere,” Goewey said. “Times are changing and it almost appears students are becoming involved in a docile society. They don’t do things after school anymore at the levels they use to like sports and music. It is not an Oswego problem. You see it everywhere.”

Board President Callen brought the discipline issue to the forefront and it is anticipated there will be an evolution addressing the concerns in the months ahead.

However, it appears there is not simple solution.

However, the district will continue to provide a safe learning environment and where students will be “fully prepared and life ready.”


  1. If the problem in the High School, seems to stem from the situation at Middle School, how was the Middle School principle received honors?

  2. The way the middle school principal enables certain students and staff to continue acting explains everything.

  3. I would love to talk to someone about this as I have worked in the district and seen things that are beyond what should’ve going on in the schools. These situations are out of control and the district does nothing to protect employees and makes excuses for the students. This is an Oswego problem! My kids attend a school where this hitting, kicking, biting and cursing at teachers in not allowed. Goewey tried to take the attention off them an focus it on other schools. Look at the issue!

  4. so when the middle school is receiving kids from elementary schools who read at Kindergarten level and have zero idea how to conduct themselves … that’s somehow the fault of the middle school principal, faculty and staff?

    Define “hold them accountable”? what specifically should the middle school be doing that it isn’t currently doing?

  5. I have a daughter in Watertown middle school (Wiley). She is very well behaved and extremely shy, causes no problems whatsoever. She has been telling me for the past 3 years a child that is swearing at the teacher and disrupting classes. They do nothing but an occasional suspension. I spoke to her teacher and they don’t want see a child removed, they want to give them chances to turn them around. Problem is, the child doesn’t see it as another chance. The kids that do this, keep repeating this behavior and the schools give no effective incentive to change. I know when I was in school in the 70’s/80’s the teachers could give you incentive and I don’t recall one student that didn’t get it and act right afterwards. This taming of the beast needs to be brought back to schools. It worked, look at society now, no consequences…DUI, drugs, everything…off the hook and out to it over and over. This touchy feely solution of mediation is just that…all talk.

  6. This is what happens in a broken world and country that so despises it’s Godly foundation that we, as a nation have been willing and adamant that God, the Bible, and the 10 Commandments be removed from school. If people could stifle their arrogance and disdain for God, then Godly Christian morals could be taught bringing a sense of hope and peace to a broken and hurting student body and their families. Everyone wants to be “free” from religion. Why? To what end? For this?? I can only ever homeschool my children because of such a travesty in our schools.

  7. Lower level forms of aggression (swearing) escalate to higher forms of aggression. Parents need to parent instead of trying to be buddies with their kid and make excuses/blame others for their kids behavior. Administrators need to set limits and lead by example…..instead of trying to score political points by looking good and passing the buck (in many cases what we now have is discipline issues being skewed into mental health issues so administrators don’t have to make the tough calls). Don’t be deceived….a lot of deliberate conscious bad behavior is being twisted into some kind of mental health problem. And man-‘oh-man do all the mental health guru’s come out of the woodwork offering explanations and countless “feel-good” solutions that really don’t work. Unfortunately when you address deliberate poor behavior which is well within a persons control and address it through a therapeutic lens you become an enabler. Bottom line – All adults need to step up across the board, and stop making excuses and justifications. If someone gets mad (kid or adult) about being held accountable the world is not going to stop spinning. It’s not about being liked…..it should be about doing what’s right!

  8. This is a problem in schools all across the country. Times have changed…and so instruction and how to handle students like this must change also. I find it hard to believe that a school district employee would speak out against another school within the district. Not any “one” person or any “one” school is responsible in its entirety for the faults of these students. There are many, many pieces that fit together to make this puzzle complete. Each of these schools do their best with the resources they have available to them.
    I am a Mom of children who attend OCSD, as well as a happy employee. I….am one of “those” teachers who work directly- daily with the most challenging students. I’ve had the privilege of teaching some tough kids. I say “privilege” for a reason. Teaching these students pushed me to be a better educator and a more compassionate person. I wish there was some magic fix or special recipe that could make only the best of each of these children shine through every day. We can not choose to only instruct the students who could teach themselves. Tough kids are used to being dismissed as hopeless and building trust and relationships with these students does not happen overnight. It has been my experience that these “tough” kids will try their best to live up to the expectations you have of them. We should perhaps look more closely at ourselves and how we interact with these “challenging” students- as closely as we scrutinize them for their behaviors…then maybe we can begin to make some progress.

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