Without a doubt, school leaders and teachers have an enormous responsibility to maintain safe and orderly schools; school climate, including school and classroom-level discipline, is crucial in ensuring a positive learning environment that will increase student achievement and performance.
In response to this responsibility and the intensifying conversation about school safety and climate, many school districts and independent charter schools have adopted zero tolerance policies to deal with student misbehavior.
Zero tolerance policies in schools, which generally result in suspensions, are not reserved for the most severe discipline infractions. Though fights are a common reason for the use of suspension, often suspensions are used as a consequence for minor, less disruptive offenses1. Zero tolerance policies, specifically suspensions, ultimately do not contribute to safe schools, improving student behavior or to improving academic performance. In fact, students who are suspended lose instructional time and can fall behind other students in academic performance2.
SUSPENSIONS MATTER because they are among the leading indicators of whether a child will drop out of school, and because an out-of-school suspension increases a child’s risk for future incarceration:
- Students who were suspended and/or expelled, particularly those who were repeatedly disciplined, were more likely to be held back a grade or to drop out than were students not involved in the disciplinary system
- 31% of 10th graders who dropped out of school had been suspended
- Two thirds of the 9th graders who went to prison had been suspended at least once in eighth grade
Beginning in March 2013, Schools First, a project of The Juvenile Justice Project of Louisiana, begins its “Suspensions Matters” public education campaign to increase awareness about the over-reliance on out-of-school suspensions in New Orleans public schools and the lack of transparency around school discipline data.
Schools First envisions public schools in New Orleans that service and support all students; utilize effective school-based interventions to help students with challenging behaviors; protect the rights of all students, including the unique rights of students with special learning needs; maintain a wide range of services to invest in the strengths of all our children; and ultimately stop the school-to-prison pipeline.
1 Raffaele Mendez, L.M. & Knoff, H.M. (2003) Who gets suspended from school and why: A demographic analysis of schools and disciplinary infractions in a large school district. Education and Treatment of Children, 26, 30-51.
2 American Psychological Association Zero Tolerance Task Force. (2008). Are zero tolerance policies effective in the schools? An evidentiary review and recommendations. American Psychologist, 63, 852-862