The United States Department of Education’s Office of Civil Rights is looking to shed light on what they call the “problem of excessive use of suspension and expulsion of students as a disciplinary tool in the nation’s schools.”
The national study will gather data to ensure disciplinary practices are carried out fairly and to ensure school districts are keeping expelled or suspended students in a learning environment.
State Superintendent of Public Instruction Tom Torlakson said he applauds the efforts by the OCR.
“I encourage all local educational agencies to continue to collect and analyze their suspension and expulsion data to determine whether their current practices are meeting the needs of their students, keeping in mind that the objective is to keep as many students as possible in a learning environment,” Torlakson said. “We encourage all districts and sites to continue to seek behavioral interventions and options other than suspension and expulsion as a means of addressing student behavior.”
Locally, the Turlock Unified School District is doing what it can to ensure the continued education of expelled students. TUSD Director of Student Services Gil Ogden said discipline practices have improved since the days when a troubled student was kicked out of school and just stayed at home.
“Our goal is to change behavior, not to punish,” he said. “We are pretty low in expulsions.”
Last year TUSD had 3,324 suspensions out of 14,000 students. Ogden said many of those suspensions could be repeat offenders and is not the total number of students actually suspended.
“The number of TUSD expulsions fluctuates from year to year. Our expulsions are pretty low for a district our size. They go anywhere from 40 to 80 a year, but in the past five years expulsions have been trending down,” said Ogden.
In an effort to keep expelled students in school students are sent to alternative schools such as the Stanislaus Military Academy or the Stanislaus Arts Academy. The student agrees to adhere to a contract that governs his or her behavior and academic progress at these alternative schools. Should the student meet the terms of the contract they are let back into a traditional campus — sometimes within one semester or less.
“We are holding kids accountable to those contracts and we are working to help them change the behaviors that got them expelled. I feel it is working because the majority of kids come back,” said Ogden.
For suspended students, the having “free” days off are quickly diminishing. Similar to Saturday school, suspended students are expected to attend a regular school day in a classroom separate from their peers.
“We try to keep them on campus through our in-house suspension; it is more effective than sending the student to stay at home. That way they are here and they are still learning something,” said Ogden.
Ogden said that contrary to popular belief, students who get suspended during their high school career are actually more likely to graduate then those who don’t.
“The kids we lose are often the kids who aren’t engaged with teachers and administration. They just don’t show up to school and they drop out. Kids who are suspended have to have parent conferences so there is interaction taking place,” he explained.