Surge in School Suspensions May Not Have the Students’ Best Interests at Heart

Bad behavior in classrooms has long troubled U.S. educators, but the escalating reliance on school suspensions as a disciplinary measure is attracting significant scrutiny.

This growing global trend, particularly in American schools, compels us to question the effectiveness of such action, its implications for the students involved, and the potential for alternative approaches.

As reported by USA Today, Destiny Huff, a Louisiana resident, has repeatedly grappled with her son’s suspensions from kindergarten since 2021, a situation that mirrors a nationwide issue.

The Consequences

The case of Destiny Huff’s son is emblematic of a more significant trend across the United States. Beginning in 2021, her son experienced a series of increasingly serious suspensions from his kindergarten class.

These disciplinary actions, often resulting from minor infractions, have initiated a cycle of missed educational opportunities and academic setbacks. The problem lies not only in the child’s behavior but also in an education system seemingly more eager to penalize than to nurture.

Stories similar to Huff’s are recounted by numerous parents across the country, who grapple with the impact of school suspensions on their children’s education and wellbeing.

This growing trend calls into question the long-term effects on students and the potential need for more effective and empathetic disciplinary strategies in schools.

The Emergence Of A Widespread Issue

“The School Discipline Consensus Report,” authored by The Council of State Governments Justice Center, addresses the surge in school suspensions.

It underscores the importance of creating a conducive learning environment, implementing behavioral interventions, and establishing constructive school-police partnerships.

The report emphasizes the role of courts and the juvenile justice system in mitigating minor school-based offenses. Moreover, it highlights the need for balancing privacy with essential data sharing and underscores the importance of annual discipline data collection to assess policy effectiveness.

The overarching goal is to keep students engaged in school and minimize their involvement in the juvenile justice system.

The Debate On School Suspensions

The divisive issue of school suspensions has been a long-standing debate among educators, parents, and policymakers. This challenge has deep roots.

For instance, during the 2015-2016 academic year, the U.S. Commission on Civil Rights reported that 2.7 million K-12 students received one or more out-of-school suspensions.

These figures from the not-so-distant past underscore the scale of the problem. Now, in 2023, with the added complications of pandemic recovery, including the impact of remote learning and disruptions to traditional school routines, the situation could potentially be even more complex.

Adding to these concerns, advocacy groups like the Dignity in Schools Campaign (DSC) contend that suspensions disproportionately affect students of color and those with disabilities. This perspective adds fuel to the ongoing debate on school suspensions.

The DSC, a national coalition of over 100 organizations, collaborates to highlight the devastating impacts of school policing and zero-tolerance discipline policies. Each October, DSC hosts a “Week of Action” featuring events, teach-ins, rallies, protests, and workshops across the country.

In 2023, their campaign, dubbed “Educate. Liberate. Elevate!” is aimed at promoting awareness and advocating for change in school discipline practices. It’s a rallying cry for more equitable education policies that respect the dignity of all students.

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Looking For Alternatives

As the prevalence of school suspensions continues to rise, the quest for alternative disciplinary methods becomes more urgent. However, not all alternatives may be effective or free from their own adverse consequences.

A recent study published in the School Psychology Quarterly underscores this issue. The investigation found that students who were black, male, of lower socioeconomic status, or placed in special education were significantly more likely to receive in-school suspensions (ISS).

Furthermore, ISS was linked with lower grade point averages and an increased likelihood of high school dropout. These findings raise concerns about the use of ISS, particularly as schools consider it as an alternative to out-of-school suspension (OSS).

Understanding the reasons behind the surge in suspensions, the impact on students, and the efficacy of potential alternatives is crucial.

An extensive body of research can offer valuable insights to inform policy and practice, ultimately striving towards a more balanced and effective approach to school discipline.


This article was produced by TPR Teaching.

Caitriona Maria is an education writer and founder of TPR Teaching, crafting inspiring pieces that promote the importance of developing new skills. For 7 years, she has been committed to providing students with the best learning opportunities possible, both domestically and abroad. Dedicated to unlocking students' potential, Caitriona has taught English in several countries and continues to explore new cultures through her travels.

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