I need to disagree with my op-ed writing colleague Jill Simonian, otherwise known as “The Fab Mom.” Although I don’t think of myself as “FAB” my credentials for this topic are that I have raised three children, have five grandchildren and three great-grandchildren, and worked for 30 years in public schools as a school psychologist and supervisor of special services personnel.
Ms. Simonian thinks it is “dangerously irresponsible and absolutely absurd” to invoke Gov. Newsom’s new ban on suspension of students in kindergarten through grade 8 for disruptive or disrespectful behavior. My viewpoint is that suspension sets students up to fail, does not encourage a student to improve, and in fact does not present any benefit to the student or the school. Many studies have shown that suspension does not prevent bad behavior nor improve classroom decorum.
Just think: You’re suspended for a couple of days or more and you get to stay home, sleep late, watch TV… and also miss school work. So when you come back to school you are behind in your work, more easily upset and more likely to act out with bad behavior again. Meanwhile, what are parents to do who have no resources for child care? If they stay home from work, their anger at the child, not only for bad behavior but for causing a loss of income, results in further impacting what may be an already fractured relationship between child and adult.
People assume that banning suspensions means that there are no rules, no respect and no consequences. This is a red herring, intending to be misleading or distracting from the truth. Of course these students will still have to obey rules, be respectful and suffer the consequences of bad behavior.
A study by the Florida Department of Education and University of South Florida determined that the chances of succeeding academically for each student are impacted by just one suspension — a 16% increase in dropout rate, 23% reduction in graduation rate, 19% reduction in actual attendance in post-secondary settings, and reduction of continuation in post-secondary settings by more than 50%. With each additional suspension, the associated deterioration is markedly increased..
Many successful alternatives to suspension have been developed that show positive outcomes. While it may offer more immediate gratification to the school or teacher to announce, “You’re suspended!” the long-term effects of more thoughtful alternatives are worth the effort. I will summarize a few of them.
▪ A signed behavior contract often includes the parent/guardian(s), indicates the behavior expectation, and includes a reinforcement to be used when the student is successful, and an appropriate consequence should the student neglect to behave according to the contract. The behavior contract provides the student with structure and self-management.
▪ Community service provides an after-school opportunity for a student to have a positive relationship with an adult, strengthen ties with the community and have a positive outlet for excessive energy. It could include working in the library, doing clean-up work with the custodian, weeding or planting the school garden.
▪ Counseling has been found to be an extremely effective alternative to suspension. It helps to teach the student replacement skills and build self-esteem. Most schools do not have a sufficient ratio of counselors to students and thus lack the resources to implement this alternative. Increased staffing in this regard needs to be a given in school districts today. Kudos to Fresno Unified including additional support staff in the new Fresno Unified budget.
▪ In-school suspension in a designated space is designed to penalize the problem behavior without removing the student from the academic community. It may range from a class period to several days and is frequently effective when assigned on a Saturday. The student continues to have access to the curriculum and school, learns the negative consequences of engaging in inappropriate behaviors, and decreases the number of inappropriate behaviors through social skills training by the in-school suspension teacher.
Along with other alternatives to suspension, students can be required to make restitution by repairing property they may have damaged, tutoring younger students or writing notes of apology. This can also be part of restorative justice, where students resolve conflicts in small groups, giving them the ability to control their own destiny.
Stephanie Krauss, a senior fellow at The Forum for Youth Investment, says “”Suspension is easy to administer, monitor and track…The problem is, it does not work.”
Francine M. Farber of Fresno is a retired school district administrator and now a fulltime community volunteer. She can be contacted at firstname.lastname@example.org.