“The primary purpose of a suspension is to give the student, his/her parent(s) and/or guardian(s), and the school time to resolve a problem. The duration of a suspension is related to a course of action designed to resolve the problem. The student shall be readmitted as soon as the school has reasonable assurance that the problem has been resolved or significantly improved.”ß
This is a very well-worded regulation, and if the district follows it, students would benefit from it. But frequently the district doesn’t take action in accord with its own directives. Suspensions are repeatedly used as punishment and to simply remove a disagreeable student. A minor altercation in the hallway can result in a multi-day suspension. Smoking on campus can get you kicked out of school also for several days. Cutting class also gets you removed from school. None of this is in accord with the district’s regulation.
There are also several zero-tolerance regulations that result in long-term suspensions or expulsions. Serious offenses need to be dealt with appropriately but zero-tolerance is directly contrary to the regulation stated above. For example, bringing a weapon to school is an automatic expulsion for the rest of the school year or longer. At first glance this sounds reasonable but it is not always so simple. Obviously, if a student brings a weapon with the intent of using it on another student he or she needs to be removed. But what if a student forgets that he put his hunting knife in his backpack for use with his father on the weekend, and goes off to school on Monday forgetting to take it out? Does he deserve to be treated the same as a student who brings a knife to school to cause harm to a student he doesn’t like? I think not. Zero-tolerance rules don’t allow for any common sense.
But even for minor infractions, suspensions are being used simply to get rid of the perceived problem child. They are not being used as required by the district’s own regulation. Children with problems don’t need to be kept out of school for days but need more time in school.
For a while the district had Saturday school for problem kids. What better incentive to get a student to behave during the school week thaåçn to be faced with losing their Saturday and having to go to school? Also, staying after school is a great tool for encouraging proper behavior in students but both Saturday school and staying late have a cost in personnel and with budget cuts these options tend to disappear.
There is a certain percentage of students who love school and don’t want to miss it, so for them a suspension is a terrible punishment. But there is also a sizable number of students who look at a suspension as getting a free holiday. In our current society, both parents most likely work so when a student misses school for a suspension he is unsupervised for that day — a perfect opportunity to get into more trouble.
The best approach is what is set forth in the district’s own regulation, but the district has a history of getting everything right on paper but frequently failing to implement it. The end result is an abuse and over use of multi-day suspensions that only harm our children.
Jeff Blanck is the former general counsel of the WCSD now in private practice in Reno. He can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org