Fewer school suspensions

March 26, 2007

It doesn't take much of a leap to predict that a student who is frequently suspended for short periods of time becomes a likely candidate to drop out. That's why school districts need to intervene more quickly and aggressively when a child acts out in ways that result in being excluded from class.

The General Assembly is considering legislation that would set up a limited number of pilot programs. But more pilot programs are not the answer. School districts already have effective tools to help more students, even those who are disruptive, stay in school. What they need are more financial resources, from public and private sources, to implement them. It may be easier to push troublemaking students out of school, but that's an abdication of responsibility.

The State Department of Education reports that during the 2005-2006 school year, 8.7 percent, or about 72,600 students statewide, were suspended, and about 37 percent of those were suspended more than once. Among those suspended, about 60 percent were African-American and 68 percent were male. Disrespect, insubordination or disruption were cited in more than half - about 46,000 - of the suspensions, including those of more than 100 kindergartners.

Students who are suspended for 10 days or longer may be required to undergo counseling or another plan to modify behavior. But that doesn't necessarily apply for shorter suspensions. The proposal before the legislature would require help from a pupil services team to avert further trouble in cases of short, but multiple, suspensions.

Maryland school districts use such interventions to help turn students around and keep them on the right track, most notably through a program called Positive Behavioral Interventions and Supports that relies on a combination of clear codes of conduct, counseling, support and behavior modification techniques that can be applied to the entire school as well as to classrooms and students.

Although it exists in all districts, the program is not in every school. Additional state- and district-level funding would help spread the program to more schools, particularly elementary schools - and increase the positive effects of better student behavior that starts from an early age.

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