For decades, school administrators have addressed undesirable student behavior by suspending the offending students from school.
Make the student go away and the problem goes away. But that’s not really what happens.
The student might be gone from school, but the issues that contributed to the behavior don’t disappear and can’t easily be brushed away. In addition, school suspensions disproportionately affect children of color, children with disabilities and members of the LGBTQ+ community.
Suspension for all but the most serious of offenses has proven to be an ineffective disciplinary took and in many cases a harmful one. Suspended students gets no help for their problems while at the same time being deprived of the education that the schools are tasked to provide.
It’s time for the state to reform school disciplinary measures to make suspensions a last resort, and to finally adopt the Judith S. Kaye Solutions Not Suspensions Act (S1040). The legislation is named after the late state Court of Appeals Chief Judge, Judith Kaye, who once chaired a judicial commission on justice for children and who advocated for these types of reforms.
The bill, which has been floating around the Legislature for the past eight years, does not call for an outright ban on suspensions. Instead, it calls for the “least severe action” necessary to respond to a code of conduct violation before imposing suspension or removal from school.
Other options to suspension, according to the bill, could include “restorative practices,” social and emotional support and other interventions. Restorative practices could include class meetings, facilitated circles, conferences and peer mediation. The goal is to hold students accountable for their behavior, while also helping them with their behavior and maintaining a healthy relationship with the school community.
The bill would prohibit suspensions for minor infractions like tardiness, unexcused absences, leaving school without permission and dress code violations, as well as certain acts of “willful disobedience” that include disruptive or rowdy behavior, use of foul language or gestures, and refusal to follow directions. It also would outright prohibit the suspension of students in pre-kindergarten through grade 3.
Students who are suspended would have to be furnished with an education plan for each of their classes so they can continue their academic instruction, complete assignments and take exams while under suspension.
One issue that state officials should address, and which is not addressed in this bill, is the issue of funding to support these restorative practices and counseling and peer mediation.
Not all schools have the resources to support these kinds of alternatives to suspensions.
Educational leaders and other advocates for children have learned so much about effective discipline, about the harmful impact of suspensions on a student’s education and about the disproportionate impact of suspensions on minorities and other disadvantaged students.
It’s time for state lawmakers to join these leaders and pass this bill this session.