Charlotte Schools Look to Reduce Student Suspensions

(Photo: Wikimedia, Creative Commons)

(Photo: Wikimedia, Creative Commons)

Charlotte-Mecklenburg Schools in North Carolina suspended almost 1,000 pupils last year — and that number represents the suspensions only in pre-K through second grade. The school board's policy committee has said there must be a change.

School board member Ericka Ellis-Stewart is pushing for a cessation of suspensions in those grade levels and wants to continue discussions on this broad and troubling topic. The Charlotte Observer's Tyler Fleming writes that Ellis-Stewart also said that suspending young people is not a productive method for disciplining students. Most disturbing is the fact that it removes children from the classroom.

But is has also been found to be invalid for improving long-term behavior. She continued by explaining that when a child is suspended at a very young age, the young one can be labeled a troublemaker for the rest of his academic years.

Others say, however, that removing the use of suspension could make it tougher for teachers to manage their classrooms. Board member Ruby Jones said she has spoken with teachers who are exhausted from dealing with ill-behaved pupils day after day. Jones said she was afraid that this problem could lower teacher retention.

"I think we need to be careful when we talk policy and then a moratorium because it will dictate an action that will reverberate to the school that says, ‘We can't suspend, but what do we do with these students?'" Jones said.

But most members agreed that the method is not helpful, and good communication with parents along with enhanced mental health resources are better ways to decrease the suspension rate.

George Metz, Jr., an adjudicated youth re-entry coordinator for Communities in Schools who was at the meeting, pointed out that many children are lagging behind academically because of suspensions.

"I have never met a kid leaving prison that was not suspended at least once," he said.

A Charlotte nonprofit that supports student leadership, GenerationNation, wants to assist the board in placing a student on the panel. Superintendent Ann Clark said there were many students interested in politics and policy.

The board itself can allow a student to be a non-voting member. Giving a student the right to vote would have to be approved and written as an amendment to the state's constitution.

Litsa Pappas of TWC News quoted Clark:

"I think we're all clear, if a student is suspended and that's all that we do, we haven't really changed what caused that student to do that particular thing that resulted in an out-of-school suspension,"

Ellis-Stewart suggested that the board should assemble a review of the suspensions by race and gender. She said the conversation was not just about a policy change but was also about shaping children's futures because of the role the school system can play in the school-to-prison pipeline.

Ty Chandler of WCNC-TV reports that California laws were passed banning suspensions for students in third grade and below. This kind of tactic is being created to reduce the excessive number of suspensions given to children of color and kids with special needs.

"They are often suspended earlier and severer consequences then their peers," said Ellis-Stewart.

Ellis-Stewart said it would probably take at least a year to put the change into effect, and the policy would have to meet the approval of the full board.

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