The Des Moines Register
When you’re a kid, the punishment you receive for wrongdoing is decided by your parents. Then you go to school. A suspension may be the first formal consequence a child receives in life. School officials should be mindful of the impact it can have on a youth and think seriously about what it will accomplish.
Line up 10 K-12 students in Iowa. Statistically, one of them would have been “removed” for rule-breaking during the 2011-12 school year. Education officials suspended or expelled students more than 70,000 times that year. The expulsion rate was up 26 percent from the year before, with 200 students being kicked out entirely. More than 42,000 in-school suspensions were given.
But the high number of out-of-school suspensions is especially troubling. Officials can ban a student from school grounds for up to 10 days without school board action. More than 21,000 Iowa students were given 27,940 out-of-school suspensions last year. Ironically, many of them were for truancy.
What can be the result of banishing students from school?
They lose class instructional time and fall behind on work. Since they are prohibited from being on school grounds, it may mean dropping out of a school play, missing band practice or not running in a track meet. Those activities may be the very motivators to attend school in the first place.
What do these kids do all day while their peers are in class? In Iowa, where a high percentage of both parents work, it’s likely the youths are at home alone. So they may sleep in or watch television all day — something many likely don’t consider “punishment.” In fact, a 2010 study from the Center for Child and Family Policy at Duke University found students perceive suspensions as “an officially sanctioned school holiday.”
Does the punishment help the student moving forward? Not according to a study from researchers at the University of California Los Angeles and Indiana University. “Suspended Education: Urban Middle Schools in Crisis” looked at middle schools around the country, including those in Des Moines. “There is no evidence that frequent reliance on removing misbehaving students improves school safety or student behavior,” the report said.
The study, like others, also found minority students were the most likely to be suspended. Children with behavioral and emotional disabilities were also more likely to be kicked out.
The number of suspensions nationally has increased dramatically since the 1970s. It is in large part of a result of a “zero tolerance” approach to discipline for everything from absences to dress code violations to fighting. Yet less than 10 percent of the suspensions in Iowa were given for violent behavior with injury, fighting with injury or drug-related offenses.
Granted, kids sometimes do stupid and dangerous things. Schools need to be able to impose consequences. Yet it makes more sense to require students to serve their suspension time in school, which means they have to get up in the morning and be accountable to officials.
Banning a student from school should be a rare punishment. Young Iowans should not be deprived of education by the very people who are supposed to be helping them.