Friday, May 20, 2016

School suspensions in Virginia raise serious issues

This study reviews disciplinary outcome data reported by local school divisions to the Virginia Department of Education for the 2014-15 school year.

Key Findings: 

  • Virginia public schools issued over 126,000 out-of-school suspensionsto approximately 70,000 individual students. 
  • After trending downward for at least fouryears, the suspension rate increasedfrom the 2013-14 school year. 
  • Over 20% of suspensions were issued to elementary school students, including16,000 suspensions to students in pre-kindergarten through third grade. 
  • Over 10%of ninth grade students were suspended at least once. 

The vast majority of suspensions were issued for non-violent, relatively minor misbehavior. In fact, approximately half of suspensions were for cell phones, disruption, defiance, insubordination, and disrespect. 

Perhaps most nonsensically, 670 suspensions were issued for “attendance.” In other words, students were sent home from school for skipping class or not coming to school.

The suspensions were disproportionately issued to male students, African American students, and students with disabilities. For instance, 12.4% of African American students were short-term (10 school days or fewer) suspended at least once, compared to 3.4% of white students; and 10.9% of students with disabilities were short-term suspended at least once, compared to 4.6% of students without disabilities.

At least 25 school divisions suspended between 25% and 40% of their African American male students with disabilities.

The study provides information about five proven methods of preventing and productively addressing misbehavior in school: MyTeachingPartner, social and emotional learning, multi-tiered systemsof supports, threat assessments, and restorative practices. These programs and strategies, if implemented well and used consistently, would greatly reduce suspensions and narrow racial and disability disparities. The brief concludes with recommendations for lawmakers and policymakers.

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