Should schools suspend suspensions?
June 7, 2013
By Jeremy Quattlebaum, Student Voices staff writer
School districts across the country have begun to question what was once considered a routine form of punishment for students: suspensions.
Last year, California handed out 700,000 suspensions, and Philadelphia issued 46,552 suspensions for a range of offenses, three times higher than the rest of the state of Pennsylvania.
But school suspensions may be a thing of the past.
Recent studies have shown that students who receive one suspension are more likely to receive another. Suspensions take the student out of school and the learning process, causing them to slip behind in their studies and increasing their chances for more disruptive behavior. Repeated suspensions also can lead students to drop out of school and eventually end up in jail.
One study shows that a single suspension will increase a student’s chance of dropping out from 16 percent to 32 percent. Each suspension increases the odds of dropping out.
Lawyer and educator Daniel Losen co-authored a report, “Out of School and Off Track,” that looked at how suspensions were handed out in the Los Angeles Unified School District. His report found that suspension rates were skewed for many demographics.
In Los Angeles, black students, students from single-family homes, poorer students, and students with disabilities were more likely to be suspended. “As we’ve gotten to this sort of zero-tolerance mentality, that kind of policy has been especially applied to poor kids and especially black kids; and also, kids with disabilities,” Losen said.
“All the research says that [being suspended] contributes to their disengagement from school,” he says. “So you can imagine that for poor students, students from single-parent households or kids who are homeless, they're much more likely to wind up on the streets unsupervised.”
In light of these findings, Los Angeles is looking at a ban on suspensions. Other states, counties, and cities are also looking into the option. Milwaukee schools replaced suspensions with alternative learning centers and mentor programs, where the student receives instruction as well as counseling to find the cause of the disruption.
In Connecticut, where suspensions are banned for all but a few offenses, a report found that suspension rates were higher among nonwhite students. The State Board of Education report shows that black and Hispanic males were suspended two to three times more than their white counterparts.
“All kinds of alarms are going off in my head,” said Theresa Hopkins-Staten, vice chairwoman of the state board. “It’s just alarming that one cohort, one group of students, regardless of where they are, rise to the top disproportionately with respect to suspensions."
The report showed that only a third of suspensions were for offenses like fighting, threatening violence, confronting teachers or bringing drugs or alcohol to school. The other two-thirds were for violating school policies on cell phones, skipping class, and being disruptive or using obscene language.
Philadelphia, too, is trying to reduce the rate of suspensions. The rates of suspensions have been steadily dropping, but many think that the rate is still too high.
“It’s definitely good if the district is relying less on out-of-school suspensions, which do not improve behavior or reduce school violence,” said David Lapp, a lawyer with the nonprofit Education Law Center. “But suspensions are still disproportionately overused.”
While the rates of suspension might be alarming to some, others argue that suspensions are necessary to keep the education process going. Los Angeles Academy Middle School teacher Martha Infante believes that banning suspensions will create more disruptions in her classroom and hinder students’ learning.
“If I see the classroom environment is suffering, that the students are getting scared, I will remove the problem student because my other students have rights, too,” she said.
What do you think?
Should schools do away with suspensions? Are suspensions an effective punishment? What are other effective punishments for disruptive behavior? Do you think that in-school suspensions are better than out-of-school suspensions as a form of punishment? Join the discussion and let us know what you think!
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