Ban school suspensions!
Robert Adrian Hillman / Alamy Stock Photo
One day this spring, my 6-year-old came home from school with deep scratches on his arm. After several meandering stories involving fictional characters, he divulged that a friend had used his fingernails to get attention. I suggested my son ask his friend not to do this again. Matter closed.
In another family, at another school district, the story might have ended very differently for one or both boys. They could have been suspended for causing minor injury. But in July, the New York City Department of Education told its elementary school principals that — barring outstanding circumstances — they could no longer suspend students in kindergarten through second grade. Instead, they would have to use other methods to help young children learn to play nice.
Nearly three million American schoolchildren are suspended — or made to stay home due to misbehavior — in any given school year. About 20 percent of the 2013 graduating class had been suspended in high school for offenses ranging from dress code violations to fighting or drug use. The most serious offenses — like guns in school — involve police and expulsions and are regulated by federal law. But more often, suspensions target smaller and often more subjective crimes like "defiance," physical contact, or bad language.
New York City is one of a handful of places where educators are starting to rethink the usefulness of this archaic practice. California, Connecticut, andOregon already passed similar restrictions on suspensions, while bills are pending in New York state and New Jersey. Other states and districts have asked schools to try a host of alternative options called "restorative practices" or "positive behavioral interventions and supports."
Why? Well, because suspensions don't work.
That's not just my opinion. The American Psychological Association says suspensions for students who "defy" a teacher don't help the suspended student and don't provide greater order or safety for those left behind, and there's academic research to back that up. Yes, there should be a consequence for actions that hurt others. But out-of-school suspension doesn't prevent bad choices, and worse, it leads to lost learning for those who may need it most.
Suspension is also a lazy option for correcting behavioral problems. As a fellow parent told me once, removing a kid from school "is just kicking the can down the road. It's not helping the child, the parent, educators. It's not even a short-term solution. It's just nothing." Instead of helping a student learn to do the right thing, a suspension often ignites a cascade of future failures, including more suspensions and entry into the juvenile justice system.
Not only are suspensions counter-productive, they are discriminatory in their application: Black students are suspended at nearly four times the rate as white students, even in preschool. The higher suspension rates for black students (particularly black boys) has little to do with them committing Ban school suspensions!: