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Should there be a cap on how many days a school year students can be suspended?

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  • Rebecca Swift 

A local organization conducted a study surrounding school suspensions, taking a look at whether or not they’re an effective disciplinary action.  The study is called, “Solutions Not Suspensions,” and was conducted by Children’s Agenda, based out of Rochester.

That report summarizes some of the research around suspensions. According to Education Policy Director Eamonn Scanlon, there’s a lot of harm associated with exclusionary discipline. Scanlon said children fall behind in school work, have lower reading and math scores, are more likely to be disengaged from school and less likely to graduate.

“The most troubling thing is they’re more likely to have more interactions with the criminal justice system and be incarcerated,” Scanlon explained. “So this is something that is called the school-to-prison pipeline where kids are pushed out and often end up in prison. So we want to really break that.”

The Solutions Not Suspensions Bill

Their policy solution is that Solution Not Suspensions bill, which would put limits on when suspensions can be used and promote alternatives in the classroom. Alternatives include having more support and getting behind why children are acting out. Evidence-based solutions, according to Scanlon, include different tiers of supports, like more intense interventions, counseling, positive behavior intervention and supports, and good classroom management. “It’s really about leadership and commitment to those alternatives,” Scanlon said.

“We see a lot of students with disabilities for instance that are being suspended at disproportionate rates,” Scanlon added. “A lot of the reason is those kids are more likely to act out when their needs are not being met. So there’s questions around are they getting their services, are we following their Individualized Education Plans. When it comes to students of color who are also suspended at disproportionate rates, are we being sensitive to racial biases that lead to kids being punished more harshly for the same behavior.”

Finger Lakes Partners (Billboard)

Parents polled as part of local study

Part of the study was a poll of 600 parents in Monroe County, and Scanlon said 84% supported limiting suspensions to only extreme cases where you’d have to legally remove a child from the classroom. That includes safety issues and gun and drug charges.

The study also pushes to, “Shorten the maximum length of suspension from 180 to 20 school days, (except when required by federal law).”

Related: New poll shows parents in Finger Lakes are cautiously optimistic about new school year

Longtime school superintendent weighs in

Marcus Whitman Central School District Superintendent Dr. Chris Brown says he agrees with a lot of what’s put forth, especially if there are minor infractions, to use a restorative approach, not just suspend.

“I also believe that when you do suspend a student, you’ve really got to make a conscious effort knowing that you’re going to change that student’s trajectory,” Dr. Brown said. “Whether it’s for a month or a week.”

What Dr. Brown took issue with, though, is the concept of capping the number of days a student can be suspended.

“School district are small cities,” Dr. Brown said. “Things happen. There are sexual assaults, stabbings, and 20 days out of school is not going to be enough in my opinion.”

Dr. Brown also noted that in the study, it says schools should “Require that students who are suspended receive academic instruction and the opportunity to complete assignments, take exams, and earn credit.” But he said schools already are required to do that.

“That’s a New York State Law,” Dr. Brown added. “When we suspend somebody, we immediately have to provide instruction or another way for them to get their education. For example, if we have a student who is incarcerated, I am either paying for the tutor that’s in a jail depending on their age or a juvenile detention facility. If they’re in a mental health facility, because of their behavior, I’m providing them with instruction.” 

DiSanto Propane (Billboard)

Advocates pushing bill

Meanwhile Scanlon and his team will push for this bill during the 2023 budget season. He said they’re petitioning the governor and our local legislative delegation, and working to push it through committee and getting it passed.