Student Well-Being

The Dark Side of Low Out-of-School Suspension Rates?

By Nirvi Shah — May 20, 2013 2 min read
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I have been writing for months about how schools are cutting down on suspending students out of school. Some districts are working on alternative ways of addressing students’ behavior. Others are banning suspensions for certain types of infractions.

In Denver, the effort has been particularly aggressive. The school district even reworked an agreement with city police to prevent unnecessary arrests and police involvement in school discipline matters.

Perhaps anyone could argue that at schools where the rate of suspension is 50 percent or more of students, something is amiss.

But is there a limit to keeping more students in class, some of whom have almost certainly been aggressive, rude, or even violent?

In a piece for Colorado Public Radio last week, reporter Jenny Brundin interviewed teachers who say yes. Her piece came on the heels of new statistics from the district that find the number of out-of-school suspensions there has dropped by 38 percent over the last two years. And expulsions have dropped by half.

Some teachers told her they are wearing mouth guards at night—even at school;to keep their teeth from grinding because of the stress of working with students who they believe should not be in their classes.

Greg Ahrnsbrak, a teacher at Bruce Randolph, a 6th through 12th grade school, said he faces students who have threatened to bring guns to school and kill teachers or threatened to kill teachers with bombs. Other teachers report that students who fight or strike teachers are back in school the next day.

“Students have threatened to follow teachers home and jump them,” he told Colorado Public Radio. Students interviewed for the piece conceded their behavior can become wild at times, and more so when there are seemingly no consequences.

Teachers at three Denver schools wrote to the superintendent recently, calling for change—though not necessarily reverting back to the days of chronic, unyielding suspensions.

A district assistant superintendent, Antwan Wilson, said Denver schools will invest $1.5 million next year to expand mental health services in its schools, one way it hopes teachers’ concerns will be addressed.

Lalo Montoya of Padres Y Jóvenes Unidos, which has worked on moving school discipline policy away from a suspension culture, told Colorado Public Radio he appreciates that teachers shared their views.

“It’s important that they share the stories, share the good and the bad because your school district needs to know what it is that you need the most support on,” he said. “We need a commitment from the school principals that they will be honest with their data and they will do what’s needed to ensure the support in those buildings that need the most support.”

A version of this news article first appeared in the Rules for Engagement blog.