I just read a blog post by Russ Skiba a professor of school Psychology at Indiana University. The post is titled Beyond Zero Tolerance: Achieving a Balance in School Discipline, in summary the post is on the problems with suspension and expulsion as classroom management tools. Skiba claims that when we expel and suspend students from our schools and our classrooms, we end up creating future criminals. He also argues that suspension and expulsion lower school safety, increase drop out rates and lower the level of academic achievement within a school.
I agree with Skiba, if a student is misbehaving we must try and figure out why they are behaving the way that they are. Skiba argues that in many cases differentiation in instruction is what is needed in order to meet student needs and manage our classrooms. Instead of punishing students for not learning, we must try and help them to learn.
Expulsion and Suspension are negative for schools, students and teachers in other ways. Removing students who have disciplinary problems from a safe environment because they are disrupting learning is not going to fix the problem. That student is not going to learn outside of the classroom, and they are not going to be able to modify their behaviour. If a student is misbehaving because they do not want to be in class, suspension is rewarding them not punishing them.
Furthermore, removing students from the classroom can be incredibly harmful to them. In cases of abuse you are taking away a safe place for them to go, are destroying your chances of getting to know the student, and because of this you may never be able to give them the supports that they need. If students are not in school and home is not safe, you are sending them somewhere that is likely unsafe. They can get themselves into trouble because they do not have a safe place to be and do not have something constructive to do.
Although I do not agree with suspensions and expulsions I can understand when there is little else we as educators can do with some students. Students that are a legitimate threat to the safety of other students, may need to be removed from the classroom. In these instances there must be another option than to throw them out of school. When someone behaviour is threatening to others, we are not doing a service to them by removing them from school. If they are not in school they are likely being threatening to others somewhere else, and the behaviour is not being modified. At the same time if an individual is a threat to the safety of the school it is dangerous to both staff and students to keep them in the school. This is the dilemma that keeps me up at night. The lives and safety of students and staff should come first in our education system, but the students that are a threat to others also need our help. So what do we do. I like to think of public education as a right not as a privilege. However, there are students who pose a real threat to schools. How can we help these students, without putting others at risk?