More on Out-of-School Suspension

North Carolina’s study and review of Short-Term-Suspension Click here for the article! titled “Short-Term-Suspensions; Long Term Consequences; Real Life Solutions”, offers valuable insight for urban districts focusing on reducing short-term-suspension rates. Most importantly, it stresses the need to create policies and procedures intended to reduce out-of-school suspensions. Administrators, school leaders, parents, and teachers must be involved in this process. Even though this seems commonsensical, many districts do not track their rate of out-of-school suspensions per grade level. Without efforts to collect these data, there is no way to determine whether or not the developed or to-be-developed policies or interventions are working. The movement in education towards accountability in academic achievement fostered through No Child Left Behind (NCLB) must trickle down to disciplinary referrals, codes of conduct, and suspension and expulsion rates. School Psychologists, who have the skill sets to be involved in systems level change, could play vital roles in presenting important research in this area, implementing data-based interventions, and developing policies to reduce out-of-school suspensions. School Psychologists could also initiate the development of district-based committees to establish policies and methods to measure improvement.

The study also identifies grade levels that are the most vulnerable to out-of-school suspensions in the state of North Carolina. For instance, the transition into middle school and high school were the most susceptible times in development. It is highly probable that this is a national trend. Qualitatively speaking, I have noticed the transition into preschool and kindergarten from private or family day cares or without previous school exposure to be quite troublesome as well. Believe it or not, suspensions do occur in preschool and kindergarten.

The valuable data that is presented in the review suggests that behavior that warrants suspension needs to be standardized. Students have been suspended for rolling their eyes, stepping out of line, or talking while transitioning. Apparently, professionals in North Carolina who work with students facing suspension have expressed concern with teacher training around behavior management and interpreting cultural norms. The ability to interpret cultural norms and possessing cultural competence in essential for teachers and administrators working with under-served populations. Here again lies opportunity for school psychologists. School psychologists are trained to be culturally sensitive and understand that not all policies are race neutral. Statistics from North Carolina demonstrate that Black or African American students are three times more likely to be suspended than Latino/Hispanic students or White students. Asian students are the least likely to be suspended. Determining the rates of suspension that are particular to the demographics of your district and developing policies and practices to target them will help to reduce racial disparities in suspension rates.

Short-Term Suspensions;Long Term Consequences; Real Life Solutions also compiled beneficial services and practices for reducing the overall suspension rate in schools. School-wide formal Positive Behavior Supports (PBS) are an important component in successfully reducing suspension rates. Positive Behavior Supports typically involve school-wide incentive plans and school-wide consequences for inappropriate behavior. Holding after-school detentions before school or on Saturdays was also suggested. I have witnessed many parents refuse to let their student serve detention because it disrupts the parents’ schedules or causes transportation conflicts. It should be easier for parents to get their student to school earlier before their work day begins. Schools could also allow a student to serve detention during a school’s arrival/breakfast process. Incorporating instruction in behavior modification into detention is a fabulous concept. Many schools require students to make up missed academic work under the supervision of a teacher during detention, but few incorporate direct teaching of adaptive behavior. School psychologists or school social workers could consult with the designated detention staff to train the staff in these skills. Co-teaching, modeling the direct teaching, and/or overseeing the instruction is recommended.

As I have suggested, this study recommends having students who need to serve out-of-school suspensions perform community service either during or outside of their school day as an alternative to keeping a student at home and out of school. Students could be required to do school work as well as volunteer work during suspensions. The school/community program that was highlighted in the article credits the student as being present so that his or her attendance record is not affected and grants the student full credit for completed homework/classwork. (e.g., B.A.T.S. – Burke Alternatives to Suspension)

Finally, another opportunity for change exists in current in-school-suspension policies. There are many schools that do not have in-school-suspension services. While they are more typical at the high school level, they are less prevalent in the elementary and middle school setting. Research from Boston College was cited in the North Carolina suspension study. I found some of the suggestions to be particularly promising. First, Boston College recommends that the staff engage in problem solving sessions that lead to formal contracts, which outline expectations and consequences for violations of the respective contract. Second, the notion of school-based counseling for repeat offenders to explore the triggers of the problem. School-based counselors also have the capacity to refer to community-based services and consult with parents. Most school districts have either a school psychologist, school social worker, and/or guidance/adjustment counselor who have these abilities.

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