When schools sus­pend stu­dents

Ket­ter­ing law­maker: Some dis­ci­pline of­ten hurts per­for­mance.

Dayton Daily News - - LOCAL & STATE - By Jeremy P. Kel­ley Staff Writer

A bill to grad­u­ally elim­i­nate most out-of-school sus­pen­sions for stu­dents in preschool through third grade will be in­tro­duced in the Ohio Se­nate in the com­ing days, ac­cord­ing to State Sen. Peggy Lehner, R-Ket­ter­ing.

At a press con­fer­ence Tues­day, Lehner cited re­search ty­ing high rates of sus­pen­sion for mi­nori­ties and stu­dents with dis­abil­i­ties to lower aca­demic per­for­mance for those groups.

“Re­search is pretty clear that one of the fac­tors con­tribut­ing to the achieve­ment gap is the con­sid­er­able amount of time that strug­gling stu­dents spend out of the class­room,” said Lehner, chair of the Se­nate Ed­u­ca­tion Com­mit­tee. “Al­ready aca­dem­i­cally be­hind, sus­pen­sions only push them fur­ther and fur­ther be­hind and leave them feel­ing un­wanted in the class­room.”

Lehner said sus­pen­sions would still be al­lowed un­der fed­eral law when stu­dents bring dan­ger­ous weapons to school, or she said, “where the child is a dan­ger to their fel­low class­mates.”

But she said those vi­o­lent sit­u­a­tions make up only 5 to 8 per­cent of sus­pen­sions and ex­pul­sions to­day. And with about 35,000 sus­pen­sions per year for Ohio stu­dents in third grade or younger, that leaves plenty of times where a young stu­dent is sus­pended out of school for non-vi­o­lent dis­rup­tion – a prac­tice she hopes will end at all grade lev­els.

The planned bill, the Sup­port­ing Al­ter­na­tives for Fair Ed­u­ca­tion Act (SAFE), was sup­ported Tues­day by fel­low state sen­a­tors Gayle Man­ning, R-North Ridgeville, and Ce­cil Thomas, D-Cincin­nati. Su­per­in­ten­dent of Cincin­nati Pub­lic Schools Laura Mitchell also spoke about her dis­trict’s decade-long use of in-school sus­pen­sion — rather than ex­pul­sion or out-of-school sus­pen­sion — to get stu­dents back on track when they need be­hav­ior in­ter­ven­tion.

If the bill be­comes law, a base­line would be set for each school’s ex­ist­ing num­ber of sus­pen­sions and ex­pul­sions of non-vi­o­lent young stu­dents. The schools would then have to cut that num­ber to 75 per­cent of that to­tal after one year, to 50 per­cent in Year 2, 25 per­cent in Year 3, and elim­i­nate those sus­pen­sions in the fourth year and be­yond.

The bill comes at a time when some school districts, of­ten in sub­ur­ban com­mu­ni­ties, have “zero tol­er­ance” poli­cies for some be­hav­iors that lead to au­to­matic sus­pen­sion.

David Romick, pres­i­dent of Day­ton Pub­lic Schools’ teach­ers union, agreed that the goal should be to keep stu­dents in school, but urged leg­is­la­tors to keep safety of stu­dents and school staff in mind.

“To the ex­tent pos­si­ble, we should keep kids in school and use restora­tive prac­tices to do that and ad­dress the be­hav­iors,” Romick said. “But there have to be al­ter­na­tives to re­move a stu­dent from a class­room or a school sit­u­a­tion if they pose a dan­ger to the stu­dents and staff.”

Lehner agreed there are times when a stu­dent must be re­moved from a class­room, but the ques­tion be­comes where that line is.

A Day­ton po­lice re­port memo filed just Mon­day de­scribed an in­ci­dent at a Day­ton el­e­men­tary school where a fifth-grader who had al­ready been in­volved in two “in­ci­dents or fights” at­tacked an­other stu­dent, hit­ting him re­peat­edly in the head.

The po­lice re­port states that the prin­ci­pal had rec­om­mended sus­pen­sion or ex­pul­sion after the pre­vi­ous case, but the spe­cial ed­u­ca­tion team that works with the stu­dent did not agree. Now the prin­ci­pal in­tends to make that re­quest again.

Day­ton’s Racial Jus­tice Now group, along with the Dig­nity in Schools cam­paign, has been push­ing for an end to out-of-school sus­pen­sion in re­cent years, cit­ing dis­pro­por­tion­ate sus­pen­sions for black stu­dents.

Lehner said each school or dis­trict would have con­trol of how they set up their be­hav­ior in­ter­ven­tions in lieu of sus­pen­sion if the bill passes. She said the Se­nate may at­tach up to $3 mil­lion in fund­ing to the bill to help with school train­ing costs. But she ac­knowl­edged there could be in­creased staffing costs, too.

“To ad­e­quately staff an in-school sus­pen­sion space does cost, but I think it’s a ques­tion of pri­or­i­ties. And I think our pri­or­i­ties have been off for some time,” Lehner said. “Ob­vi­ously it’s not work­ing, so we have to be will­ing to do dif­fer­ent things. Some­thing else may have to go to make room.”

State Sen. Peggy Lehner wants to change the rules on some school sus­pen­sions.

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