School suspensions are a part of the childhood experience for some students. That’s nothing new. Much has been written about the overabundance of Black and Brown students — especially male students — who are funneled through this early entry point of the school-to-prison-pipeline. However, it appears that the tides are changing and, according to the numbers, fewer suspensions are taking place across New York City schools.. For me, that begs the question, “Well, how?” What structures were implemented to cause such a positive shift in student buy-in and school culture? Some teachers — myself included — have their own ideas about why this downward trend has caught on:
A recent report from Chalkbeat finds that,
“Nearly 57% of New York City teachers believe underreporting by school administrators is at least somewhat responsible for the decline in out-of-school suspensions in their school, a higher share than the national average.”
I would have to agree, but I am not so sure that this is a bad thing. It is plausible that this underreporting is the perfect counteraction to the long-standing over-targeting of Black and Brown students for even the smallest of infractions that, for other students, wouldn’t even been recognized. This underreporting could be as a result of teachers being more mindful of their implicit biases, that unjust filter through which they examine behavioral situations. The decline in suspensions may be the new antidote for decades of racial profiling that disadvantaged students of color.
My experience has been that, in an effort to mitigate the school-to-prison pipeline, punitive measures for disciplinary infractions have been replaced with discipline strategies that are rooted in restorative justice practices. Closer attention is now paid to the social and emotional needs of our most vulnerable students. Oftentimes their acting out is a result of deeper issues that require in-school counseling, not out-of-school and unsupervised suspension.
The Chalkbeat article supports this:
Education department spokeswoman Miranda Barbot emphasized that the department is “expanding training so that every middle and high school teacher can effectively use restorative approaches in their classroom, and every elementary school teacher can help their students develop social-emotional skills.”
I know firsthand that there has been a big push for things like restorative justice circles to address students who harm the school community. It is the teachers, not the students, who are often resistant to the implementation of restorative practices in lieu of punitive ones. In all honesty, there are times when I have felt that a student deserved a harsher consequence than the restorative one handed down. Students need to have stern consequences in safe environments where they can learn from their mistakes, not be hardened by them. They will have enough encounters with those challenges of life outside of the confines of school. School should always remain a place of nourishment and growth alongside accountability and learning.
The previously mentioned report goes on to state that, “[m]ore than 70% of city teachers believe discipline is ‘inconsistently enforced’ in their schools.” This is of significance because the inconsistency can be rooted in racist beliefs and other forms of implicit biases housed in the minds and hearts of the teachers penning behavioral write-ups. On the other hand, the inconsistencies may also derive from teachers who have a better understanding of what drives students to act out in certain ways. This deeper understanding may cause the teacher to avoid writing up a child in a way that would put them on track to being suspended. I don’t think a lot of teachers realize just how damaging their write-ups can be down the line for students who unfortunately and involuntarily traverse the school-to-prison pipeline.
Paul Gorski, an educator from North Carolina (@pgorski) adds a perspective that I think is worth bringing into this conversation. He tweeted a few days ago, “Studies show suspension/expulsion disproportionality has little to do w/ behaviors of SoC & much to do w/ educators’ racism. So it’s hard to not see this disparity as purposeful when so few schools try to solve it by rooting out racism rather than by adjusting behaviors of SoC.”
Until racist practices are rooted out of the suspension equation, underreporting of suspensions in our schools will remain the trend.