Sunday, February 02, 2020

Limiting Suspensions Is a Slippery Slope

I like State Senator Jessica Ramos. I'm glad she's working for us. This notwithstanding, I wonder about the bill she's pushing to limit school suspensions. According to the article, suspensions can be up to 180 days. I know this is true, and I know of a few students who committed outright atrocities who received yearlong suspensions. I won't go into what they did, but I assure you neither you, Jessica Ramos, or anyone I can think of would oppose them.

When I read about what upsets Ramos, I can't really disagree.

School suspensions have been linked to students dropping out and ending up in the criminal justice system — and Black and Hispanic students are suspended at much higher rates than their peers, statistics show.

That's not right. No one should face suspension, or any consequence whatsoever, simply because of who they are. And then there's this:

Students who miss classroom time through suspension are less likely to succeed and are more likely to wind up in the prison system.

There is certainly a connection there, but what's the cause and what's the effect? Does suspension itself cause this? Isn't it possible that the behavior that resulted in suspension is what makes students "less likely to succeed and more likely to wind up in the prison system?"

Let's take a look at the behaviors that, under this bill, would no longer result in suspension:

The bill would also prohibit suspending students for tardiness, unexcused absences, leaving school without permission, dress code violations, lack of school ID and “willful disobedience” — which it defines as disruptive, insubordinate or rowdy behavior.

There's some sense here. It's absurd to suspend students for being late or absent. Likely as not, being suspended would mean extra opportunity to be late or absent, and cause for celebration on the part of students who didn't want to be in school anyway. Dress code violations ought not to merit suspension, and lack of school ID can be remedied with a temporary ID. That's what happens in my building.

I'd like a better definition of "willful disobedience." For example, I don't think a student ought to be suspended for refusing to take an assigned seat. Perhaps the student could be removed from that class that day, and a parent could be contacted. I'd say the same for disruptive behavior, There is, in fact, a state provision that students who make it impossible for others to learn be removed from that class for up to five days.

However, I'm not sure about that 20 day limit. Here's why. For one thing, it seems to already be in place. A teacher in my school was assaulted by a student. The student smashed into the teacher's neck with his arm. This could have killed my colleague, but didn't. I guess both he and the student are lucky on that account. Therefore the student was suspended for 19 days. I was told the max was 20.

I am not remotely persuaded that suspension is the primary factor endangering this student's success or likelihood of entering the prison system. I am further unpersuaded that sending the student back after 19 days is an acceptable risk for my colleague.

I'd argue that students who assault teachers or other school employees have issues beyond what Ramos intends. Forgive me, but I'm more concerned with victims of violence than perpetrators, and it's hard for me to imagine that students who commit violence against staff are not equally, or likely more of a threat to their fellow students.

20 days no matter what is a very bad idea.
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