If your car starts making a funny noise, you can turn up the radio and ignore it, hoping whatever problem it’s warning you about will go away by itself.
Or you can take your car to a mechanic, get to the root of the problem, fix what you can, take measures to prevent a recurrence, and perhaps head off a major breakdown in the future.
Fortunately, addressing the noise is what the Schenectady school district decided to do with regard to its suspension issue. Only the breakdown they’re attempting to avert is to someone’s life.
Suspending students for disciplinary problems is an easy, punitive measure that the district had taken far too often in the past. The number of suspensions in the district also showed a racial bias, with a disproportionate number of black students receiving suspensions over white students.
But through its two-year-old “diversion program” designed to address the issues that lead to trouble and suspensions, the district is helping kids avoid future issues, keeping them in school longer so they can continue their studies without missing too much material, and perhaps putting them on the road toward better behavior and academic success.
The diversion program allows students who are suspended for over five days to get a reduced sentence, if you will, in exchange for subjecting themselves to counseling, a monitored health and services program, and adherence to a recommended method of treatment.
The district’s goal is to take the emphasis off punishment and put it on getting students the help they need to control and alter their behavior.
It’s an approach similar to that used in the state’s criminal justice system through alternatives to incarceration, particularly in the area of drugs, DWI, mental health and youth crimes. It’s worked to reduce crime, imprisonment and recidivism in the criminal justice system. And we’re seeing signs it’s working in the school system.
An article in Sunday’s paper by staff writer Zachary Matson reported that in the past year, the district has significantly reduced the total number of days students were suspended from school, increased the number of kids participating in the diversion program, and narrowed the gap between black and white student suspensions.
It’s still far too early to judge the long-term effectiveness of this approach. But it’s shown promise, and the district needs to see it through by expanding and improving the program and making it available to more students.
The district still has a long, long way to go in addressing the way it handles discipline. But the improvement in suspension data is a hopeful sign.
The more emphasis the district places on addressing the root causes of student behavioral issues, the better off the district, the students and society will be.