Suspending Students

Nearly 60 percent of public junior high school and high school students get suspended or expelled, according to a report that tracked about 1 million Texas children over six years.

More than 30 percent of the Texas seventh- through 12th-grade students received out-of-school suspension, which averaged two days.

About 15 percent were suspended or expelled at least 11 times, and nearly half of those ended up in the juvenile justice system. Most students who experienced multiple suspensions or expulsions do not graduate, according to the study by the Council of State Governments Justice Center and the Public Policy Research Institute of Texas A&M University.

The study is considered groundbreaking because it relies on the actual tracking of students instead of a sample.The study found:

For the nearly 60 percent formally disciplined, the actions ranged from in-school suspension for as little as one class period to being expelled.

Three percent of the disciplinary actions resulted from conduct for which the state requires removal from class — such as aggravated assault or using a firearm on school property — while 97 percent were at the discretion of the school district for school conduct code violations.

Special-education students, particularly those categorized as emotionally disturbed, were more likely to be disciplined.

83 percent of African American male students had at least one discretionary violation, compared with 74 percent of Hispanic male students and 59 percent of Anglo male students.

The same pattern applies for female students — 70 percent for African Americans, compared with 58 percent for Hispanics and 37 percent for Anglos.

“We see so many kids being removed from the classrooms for disciplinary reasons, often repeatedly, demonstrating that we’re not getting the desired changes in behavior,” Thompson said. “When we remove kids from the classroom, we see an increased likelihood in that student repeating a grade, dropping out or not graduating. We also see an increased likelihood of juvenile justice involvement.”

The report confirms his concern about criminalizing classroom behavior.

Suzanne Marchman, spokeswoman for the Texas Education Agency, added that the agency is concerned that the study creates an impression that students might be committing serious crimes, while most are disciplined for discretionary infractions as minor as a wild hairdo.
Woods said the district monitors discipline rates at campuses each semester and addresses trends with those administrators.

In the San Antonio Independent School District, special-education students were most disproportionately disciplined — 16 percent received in-school suspension versus about 10 percent for the total student body.  2009-2010 disciplinary data collected by the TEA show that African American students, special-education students and at-risk students are disciplined at higher rates.

Disruptive students need to be dealt with.  But referring them to the criminal justice system should be the exception rather than the rule. Dumping them on the streets doesn’t address the root cause of the problem and makes a school problem, a societial problem.  At the same time, alternative schools should not be used as a “dumping ground for disruptive students until schools discover why they were disruptive.