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In Virginia School Districts, Hundreds of Children Suspended for Skipping Class in Vicious Cycle

In Virginia School Districts, Hundreds of Children Suspended for Skipping Class in Vicious Cycle

A new report that took a look at the discipline of Virginia’s students found that many school districts in the state are in need of reform as black students and special needs students are disproportionately disciplined, many for non-violent infractions.

"The report, "Suspended Progress…” released today by the Legal Aid Justice Center, says that the fix would be for school administrators to shift away from so-called zero tolerance policies, which often mandate punishment for even slight infractions, in favor of working with families and installing more preventive and supportive discipline,” according to The Christian Science Monitor.

Due to these kinds of zero-tolerance policies, many student suspensions are for infractions such as cell phone use and even worse attendance problems.

"It makes absolutely no sense that students were sent home from school for skipping class or not coming to school," Jeree Michele Thomas, an attorney for JustChildren, told The Christian Science Monitor.

And since Virginia does not offer alternative education options to children who missed school for being disciplined, suspended and expelled students are likely to keep falling behind in what becomes a vicious cycle.

The report also revealed that 20 percent of all of Virginia’s suspensions are of elementary students; it’s becoming increasingly controversial to issue suspensions to young, developing children.

Experts and advocates from various organizations are shocked by the report’s findings and are calling upon immediate action to begin fixing a problem that has been years in the making.

The report references examples of states and districts that have had success in improving student outcomes using restorative justice that Virginia schools might benefit from.

“Schools that offered intensive RJ training and follow-up for staff also demonstrated positive results across a range of disciplinary outcomes.59 In one instance, an elementary school experienced a 57% reduction in discipline referrals, a 35% reduction in average time in in-school suspension, and a 77% reduction in out-of-school suspensions. Results from other schools in Minnesota with strong training were similar – ranging from a 45% to a 63% decrease in suspensions,” the report said.

Several large districts have made highly anticipated switches to restorative justice practices, such as the Los Angeles Unified School District. While LAUSD has had success so far in reducing expulsions and suspensions, teachers have outwardly complained about difficulties controlling misbehaving students due to a lack of alternative measures.

Cases like LAUSD make it clear that when districts are considering disciplinary systems, proper training and solid alternative measures are important consider.

Read the full post here and the full report here.

Nicole Gorman, Education World Contributor

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