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Zero tolerance in schools? Suspension matters!

April 22, 2013

Now here is a campaign we can get behind. The Juvenile Justice Project of Louisiana started a campaign to shed light on the problem of suspensions in New Orleans schools. Especially interesting to the Network is the recognition that more often than not the youth who get suspended are those with behavioral issues – and that leads to disciplinary actions, which leads to suspension and likely involvement in the justice system. Schools First, part of the Juvenile Justice Project of Louisiana, started its “Suspension Matters” public education campaign in March to help promote awareness about the recent over-reliance on suspensions in New Orleans schools.

As Network members with children who have behavioral challenges know all too well, many schools employ a “zero tolerance” policy when dealing with misbehavior. More and more, suspensions are often given as a consequence for minor offences. So once out of the classroom, any support and structure the class offered is gone, leaving a gaping hole in some critical elements (structure and stability) so important to the lives of youth with emotional and behavioral challenges. We can darken the scenario even more since the recent tragedy at Sandy Hook elementary where the calls for increases in security officers in schools is getting louder and louder. Increased security, without adequate training, we fear will lead to more suspensions over the most minor infractions.

Over the past several years schools have responded to the enormous responsibility of keeping their students safe by enforcing harsher classroom-level discipline. Many school districts and independent charters now handle student misbehavior by standing behind a zero tolerance policy.

The Juvenile Justice Project of Louisiana (JJPL) found that:

  • Students who were suspended and/or expelled, particularly those who were repeatedly disciplined, were more likely to be held back a grade or to drop out than were students not involved in the disciplinary system
  • 31 percent of 10th graders who dropped out of school had been suspended
  • Two thirds of the 9th graders who went to prison had been suspended at least once in eighth grade

This is a huge problem for youth with emotional and behavioral challenges. Props to the Juvenile Justice Project of Louisiana for tackling this head on. Visit the “Suspension Matters” section of their website for more information.

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