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Overzealous School Discipline Keeps Students out of the Classroom

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December 1, 2011

The Washington Post ran a great editorial Tuesday pointing out how schools frequently overreact to misbehaving students, and why the resulting loss in classroom time does not lead to better behavior, nor improved school safety.

The editorial references a new report on promoting positive solutions to school discipline, which found that more than 90,500 students were suspended or expelled from a Virginia school in 2010-2011. Most suspensions and expulsions resulted from minor misbehavior, such as disorderly classroom conduct or misuse of electronics. The editorial pointed out the harsh impact of such unnecessary disciplinary measures:

Disproportionately affected are students from economically disadvantaged backgrounds, students with emotional and behavioral disabilities and minority students (particularly black males). What results from high suspension rates are low student achievement, more dropouts and increased contact with the juvenile justice system. That’s a high price to pay, considering that this punishment has little effect in changing student behavior or in maintaining a positive school climate.

The issue is not unique to Virginia, but part of a disturbing nationwide trend. Schools regularly overact when it comes to handling student discipline, which results in many children missing valuable classroom time.

And increasingly, schools are relying on law enforcement instead of educators to handle minor student misconduct, creating a dangerous path from schools to prisons. In Indiana, a high school senior’s prank that involved putting a blow-up doll in a bathroom stall on the last day of school led him facing a felony charge. Earlier this year, a 5-year-old California boy with attention deficit hyperactivity disorder was handcuffed with zip ties and charged with battery on a police officer after he became agitated.

Children across the country are being pulled out of the classrooms and pushed into jails, creating a dangerous School-to-Prison Pipeline. Students of color often bear the brunt of such misguided practices, but they are not the only ones impacted. When incarceration replaces education, our entire nation suffers.

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