Zero tolerance in schools? Suspension matters!

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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:

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.

Comments

  1. reds1612's avatar
    reds1612
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    I agree with the facts that suspension cause disinterest in school as well as more suspensions and expulsions.
    Behavior problems have a root and if a child grows up in a home with a family or at least parents, that is their root. So when there is a problem with a child in school, that is the Guidance or other Counselors' place to take a stand and be involved with the children on a personal level. When I was in high school, we had an excellent art teacher who asked permission to take on the kids after school suspensions. The principal gave him this duty as an experiment to see what would come out of it. It had great results. He stayed after every day because he was a very dedicated teacher and he wanted to work on the next day's lesson or finish that day's project, so he would have to clean up the room. This is what he had the kids in suspension do: they cleaned, they helped him unload supplies from his van, they did beautification projects that he did for free for the school (he planted beautiful flower gardens and maintained them and transformed dead areas and "light courts" into places of beauty: "living art"). He had them carry bags of cement or garden soil to the light courts or other areas that he was working on and he taught them how to use the garden tools to do what had to be done. He taught them the identity of weeds and how to weed properly. He had them help bend and twist metal for his outdoor projects. In winter he had them do indoor prep work for sculptures. He was responsible for several of the big showcases as well as the backdrops for plays, so he had the suspension kids help him with that. A lot of the kids would join the drama team because they found something that was interesting for them. There were other teachers that joined in this after school suspension "training", because it gave them a new outlook on life just by a teacher taking the time to make a difference. I think teachers get afraid of a child who acts up and if they looked at the child as if he or she was their child or brother or sister, I think they would react in a different way, other than reporting the child right away to the principal.
    It would be embarassing also for a child to get taken out of class, because once that happens, the other kids immediately will talk about them and they may even get made fun of.
    The schools should seek out volunteer parents or ministers who would like to be a part of the school "guidance" program, so that when a child gets taken out of class, they could be appointed to a surrogate "parent" who can sit with them and talk with them and find out what their interests are. The children most likely do not have a parent at home who is able to spend time with them or maybe doesn't have a car or enough money for food; all of these reasons can leave a child yearning for love and attention and they may have pent up anger, so they do not know how to properly vent or talk about things.
    No child is born with anger. It is learned and as parents and teachers we are to help children grow and learn. If a parent doesn't know how to parent, because they could have been raised by a bad parent, then they are technically a "bad parent". That isn't necessarily bad, but it is a cause for concern that something needs to be changed. It is a reason for the parent to be in parenting classes and maybe go to Home Ec classes as a "parent-student" so they can learn the basics of providing for a family.
    There are plenty of churches that have family and/or parenting "nights" where anyone can go to learn a trade or lesson of some sort. The schools could be made aware of these so the parents and the troubled children could be engaged there, which could be like "learning credits".
    It would be like taking Night Courses at a Vo-Tech school, except that it would not have a cost.
    There are so many things that schools could offer to families in need that there is no reason for a child to be shamed into suspension and then expulsion and then dropping out.
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