Seattle School Board Bans Suspensions For Elementary School Students, And It’s A Big Step Forward
Schools seem to have gotten pretty suspension-happy of late. When I was in school, an out-of-school suspension was virtually unheard of. It was high up on the list of punishments after scoldings, harsh looks, letters home, official warnings, detention, multiple detentions, and saturday detention. Now it seems like kids are getting suspended all the time for things as insignificant as wearing the wrong color shirt. It is ridiculous, especially for young children. Kids are supposed to be learning that education is important. How can you teach them that if you’re kicking them out of class? A suspension for a silly reason tells kids that their class time is not as important as administrative posturing and now, finally, one school board is taking steps against it.
According to The Seattle Times, the Seattle School Board has banned out-of-school suspensions as a punishment for all elementary school kids who commit non-violent infractions against the rules. The ban is officially a one-year moratorium on the suspensions with the goal of moving towards permanently ending suspensions for elementary school kids who might disrupt class but are not violent. I sure hope they do.
“This is a step forward for all of us,” said Seattle School Board member Betty Patu of the new measure, which the board unanimously voted in favor of. “These are our kids, and we need to do whatever we can to make sure they stay in school. I’m really excited we are actually making this a reality.”
The new measure makes good sense, because suspension is too extreme of a punishment for an elementary school kid who is found guilty of “disruptive conduct, rule breaking, and disobedience,” which were previously punishable by out-of-school suspensions. Those types of infractions reportedly accounted for three quarters of all elementary school suspensions last year, while the other quarter of suspensions were due to things like assault, fighting, or threats of violence.
Not only is suspension too extreme of a punishment for a young kid who is not violent but “disobedient,” but those punishments are not being evenly applied across schools. What is “disruptive” or “disobedient” to one teacher might not be to another, so the kids are not necessarily getting equal treatment for the same infractions.
As Slate points out, suspensions reflect racial and economic divides as well. Children of color are suspended at significantly higher rates than white children, and in Washington 78 percent of suspensions and expulsions from 2013-2014 went to students from low-income families.
Seattle’s new moratorium on suspensions for non-violent elementary school children is part of an effort to reduce the number of suspensions for students of all ages, and to reduce performance discrepancies between students of different backgrounds and figure out different disciplinary measures that do not involve sending students out of school. According to The Seattle Times‘ Paige Cornwell, “The idea is to halt what some see as the school-to-prison pipeline.”
“We want to starve the pipeline at the source,” said Seattle School Board member Harium Martin-Morris.
I hope the Seattle effort is successful, and that other school districts will follow their example.
(Photo: iStockPhoto/Getty Images/Antonio_Diaz)