Currently, disciplinary procedures include sending students to an alternative school and also simply not having them attend school — that is, nothing. Should school districts not be more pro-active in helping students who’ve been suspended or expelled by reintegrated into public schools? Writes Shah:
“Seeing how common it is for students to be suspended or expelled … we probably can do better,” [Michael D. Thompson, director of the nonpartisan, nonprofit Justice Center] said. Also, the study raises concerns about how nearly half the students disciplined 11 or more times also were in contact with the Texas juvenile justice system, raising the specter of the so-called “school-to-prison” pipeline.
In addition, at schools within Texas with similar demographics, the use of the punishments varied widely, “indicating, I think, that it’s possible by relying less on suspensions and expulsions to reduce juvenile justice involvement and improve academic performance,” he said.
Suzanne Machmann, a spokesperson for the Texas Education Industry, said that the study suggests that educators and others need to reassess how they are addressing student discipline:
In particular, if students’ punishment entails being sent to an alternative setting or juvenile justice setting, school districts need to be sure the teaching at those schools is high quality, she said.
“School districts need to take a closer look at the level of instruction that’s taking place at these alternative settings when [students are] punished so when [students] are released back to districts they’re not behind academically and they’re not frustrated,” she said, triggering a cycle of misbehavior that sends a student back to one of those alternate settings.
In regard to students with disabilities, the report should be a wake-up call to schools to revisit how they are addressing special ed students’ behavior issues: Are they simply punishing students or using positive behavior supports and other pro-active methods to help students with disabilities better manage their behaviors? The study notes that the decision to suspend or expel a student also seems to rest too much on the decisions of administrators at individual schools; should there not be statewide policies? Are we really seeking to educate all students, or simply shuffling those with “problem behaviors” off to alternative school and juvenile justice settings without intervening?
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Photo of entrance to school in Douglass, Texas by Jeff Attaway
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