When It Comes To School Discipline, Suspension May Not Be The Answer


Education experts are questioning whether suspensions and expulsions really work for school discipline.

America has come a long way since the days of teachers being able to smack their students with a ruler when they misbehave, but studies have shown that suspensions for minor infractions aren’t that helpful, either.

Expanding on that notion, new research from the Civil Rights Project’s Center for Civil Rights Remedies shows profound disparities between the suspension rates of minorities and disadvantaged students and their white student counterparts. The report breaks out federal data by elementary and secondary schools and gives comparative suspension rates for every district in the nation.

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The study also showed that suspending or expelling students – especially minorities and those with disabilities – just aggravates the situation, and leads to lower achievement and lower graduation rates.

Under the study’s parameters, “disabilities” refers to students who have an individualized education plan or IEP, which means they’re eligible for special education because they have a disability that impairs their ability to learn in the classroom.

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Some schools across the country have sought to change disciplinary actions from that of zero-tolerance to more interventional tools between parents and teachers. In May 2013, the Los Angeles Unified School District passed a resolution to ban the use of suspension to punish students for willful defiance.

In the 2011-12 school year, for middle school students, Clark County School District suspended more than 6,800 Latinos, and more than 4,200 African-American students, compared with about 3,000 white students.

Daniel Losen with the Center for Civil Rights Remedies said things are actually getting better in southern Nevada and the racial gap is narrowing. He also told KNPR’s State of Nevada that offenses kids are suspended for are usually minor.

“Most of the suspensions were for breaking school rules, not violent behavior,” Losen said, “Most of the offenses covered in our report are minor offenses.”

Jeff Freeman, the director of alternative education and behavioral programs at Washoe County School District, said his district works to provide wrap around services for students who have discipline problems.

“We are dedicated to keeping kids on the path to a diploma,” Freeman said.

Mojave High School Principal Antonio Rael said his school established a similar program. Students are not suspended for non-violent offenses.

“These are our children and we’re responsible for them when they’re on our campus and even when they’re not,” Rael said.

Rael also worked with teachers to make sure they had better skills to deal with students with discipline problems.

Psychology professor at UNLV Bradley Donohue said that suspensions simply don’t work.

“It’s very expensive and it’s an ineffective and it’s associated with school dropouts,” Donohue said

He said suspensions ultimately lead to more trouble because kids are home unsupervised. He said suspensions in early grades can be especially harmful because it can impact their self-esteem.  

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Daniel Losen, director, Civil Rights Project’s Center for Civil Rights Remedies; Bradley Donohue, psychology professor, University of Nevada Las Vegas; Antonio Rael, principal, Mojave High School; Jeff Freeman, director, alternative education and behavioral programs, Washoe County School District

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