Saturday, July 28, 2012

A Change in Suspension and Expulsion Guidelines

The Maryland State Board of Education has just released new guidelines that change regulations relating to suspensions and expulsions in Maryland schools. Their aim is to move to a more rehabilitative model of discipline. This move is not entirely shocking considering the national debate around this issue and the fact that an inordinate amount of minority and special education students are impacted by suspensions and expulsions.

Overall, I think this is a great idea and a necessary step if we are to close the achievement and opportunity gap for all students. Too often, suspensions and expulsions are used as a “crutch” for schools, instead of investing the time and resources in more difficult students. Further, in my personal experience it was too easy to suspend kids from school, as there was little oversight or questioning of disciplining decisions, even as our suspensions ballooned. Many times, the kids being suspended were simply given a three day vacation from school for disrupting class or being difficult, with no follow up to address the situation or correct the action long term. Additionally, many kids were routinely suspended for the same misbehaviors (which were not a threat to school safety), indicating that the policy of suspending did not work.

There are necessary times to suspend or expel students, mainly when the general safety of the school or other students has been compromised. Outside of these parameters, suspending students is not the best strategy, especially in areas where students are already at least one grade level behind. I admit, it is easier to suspend students that are troublesome and distractions for the entire class, but other avenues need to be pursed in this case. Students should be in school as much as possible; we cannot afford to have students miss days simply for being disruptive or disrespectful.

Hopefully, these new guidelines will work, but I hope they are coupled with new support systems for schools and administrators. I know as a teacher I want to do everything in my power to keep kids in my classroom and on task, sometimes I just need help doing that. These guidelines could end up being a difficult mandate to follow if they are not also established with new resources to help schools, teachers, and administrators meet this goal. 


Rudi said...

This is really interesting. I have always seen suspensions as going in two extreme directions - either too many suspensions that cause students to miss school, or no suspensions given at all which makes it seem that students can do anything with little consequence. I think the idea of focusing more on a rehabilitative approach will hopefully do a lot of good in Baltimore City schools. It makes no sense to take kids out of school, especially when as teachers we know how precious every second of learning time is. However, students need to know that there are consequences for their actions. The article didn't seem to mention the specifics of the "rehabilitative" approach recommended. It will be interesting to see how this manifests in schools. I always thought that an in-school suspension was a good balance, giving a clear consequence while not letting students miss school.

This also makes me ask if absolutely all behaviors will be banned under the no tolerance policy? Surely some violent behaviors warrant an automatic suspension.

Kimmi Oshita said...

Like Rudi, I am interested in seeing how the “rehabilitative” approach plays out in schools. I still go back and forth about the role of suspensions. Recently, the Maryland Board of Education released the list of “persistently dangerous schools,” and my school was one of the eight schools on the list in Baltimore City. I think there may have been a higher suspension rate at my school because it was in its first year of the turnaround process, and there needed to be a strong shift in culture and climate. The goal was to set a strong tone in the first year so that fewer suspensions would be needed in the future. Personally, I always felt very safe at school, and I think the label of persistently dangerous” is misleading. I wonder if other schools would have had more suspensions if they were less concerned about being labeled “persistently dangerous.” Perhaps there are schools that are unsafe because they do not suspend students. I think that this “rehabilitative” approach could be good as long as its implemented in a way that does not allow students to view misbehavior and violence as inconsequential.

Katie said...

I completely agree that suspensions/expulsions need to be adjusted to make sure they are only used in extreme cases and when it will provide an effective consequence (rather than the three-day vacation) and I really like the idea of monitoring the rates for injustices against minority and special needs students. I too am curious about "rehabilitative approaches." Something that I found to work really well with older students is the idea of restorative justice, or the practice of fitting a consequence to the nature of the offense in order to right the wrongs specifically to the victim or the community. This helps the student understand why what they did was wrong, develop empathy, and help to be the situation. However, I foresee many barriers to this in our schools. Last year, it was explained to me that having students clean desks in the classroom is “corporal punishment,” and so I couldn’t employ that method for my chronic desk-scribblers. So while I whole-heartedly stand behind having students in class more (and am not in the slightest suggesting that writing on desks is a suspendable-offense or cleaning them is the best example of restorative justice), I hope that these guidelines offer some reasonable parameters as to what CAN be done that will truly be rehabilitative.