School discipline is always a hot button issue. Whether you are talking about expulsions or time-outs, everyone has opinions about the way school discipline should be handled. That’s not for no good reason either. There are many problems with the way schools currently assign and enforce discipline. This is a big deal because the school to prison pipeline obviously starts with schools, a fact that has some people calling for out-of-school suspensions to be banned altogether, at least temporarily. However well-intentioned that call may be, it is a mistake.
While I am all for making sure the educational system is incorporating equitable discipline practices, we also have to make sure that we are being reasonable and rational. We can’t let idealism cloud the reality that we see in schools. What is that reality? Some students have extreme behaviors that cannot always be handled in a classroom setting. In those cases, an out-of-school suspension may be warranted. Particularly if the student’s behavior is not a manifestation of any identified disability.
One of the most common arguments against out of school suspension is it doesn’t help the student. And this, for the most part, is actually true. Unless the behavior is caused directly by adverse stimuli encountered at school, there is little evidence that suggests an out-of-school suspension helps the suspended child themselves. However, that’s not really the point. Unfortunately, suspensions are not designed to help the student; they are designed to help the school. Suspensions are for the other students in the class. If a school has a student that consistently hits or starts fights with other students, they likely have no choice but to suspend him or her. It may not help him or her much, but the other students in the class deserve an experience free from physical harm. Hopefully, the school will have exhausted their other options before the rolling suspensions began, but if all else fails, it’s really the only tool left.
It is an inconvenient and uncomfortable truth, but sometimes the best course of action is to temporarily remove a student from the primary learning environment.
I have been a middle school teacher for the better part of a decade. I can honestly say that very few students have behavior that warrants multiple out-of-school suspensions… but I’ve seen them. It seems unfair that distant bureaucrats and pundits who do not currently have the burden of running a classroom, nor the experience of ever doing so are advocating for policies based on idealism and an uneducated opinion that I will have to then be held.
Now, out-of-school suspensions should only be used for extreme behaviors. The type that literally prevents learning from occurring, not things like sleeping, talking, or my personal favorite, attendance. (Yes, suspensions from school… for missing school.) Currently, many schools do suspend students for silly benign behaviors without even attempting other interventions. Additionally, we know for a fact that minority students are suspended more often for the same behaviors than their white counterparts. That is where school suspensions should be fought. But you can’t arbitrarily claim every suspension is a bad one because as with any overarching generalization, you will inevitably be wrong.