Editorial: New suspension policy prioritizes learning
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Revisions in the Commonwealth of Massachusetts’ policies regarding suspensions, known as Chapter 222, are a step in the right direction towards ensuring suspensions are effective and fair. Serving out a suspension in school, as the law requires for suspensions of 10 days or fewer, holds students accountable for their misbehavior and minimizes the long-term detrimental effects of these punishments.
According to the Massachusetts Department of Elementary and Secondary Education, during the 2014 school year, 3.5 percent of students at the high school, or approximately 59 students, were suspended for some infraction.
The high school divides suspensions into two categories: those where students are suspended in school and those where students are suspended outside the school building and are unable to attend school for a certain period of time.
In-school suspensions, which were less common at the high school before Chapter 222 went into effect, allow the suspended student to spend the days they are suspended at the high school completing schoolwork. Out-of-school suspensions prohibit students from entering the school premises for the duration of their suspension.
The point of suspensions at the high school is to help students understand the harm of their behavior and encourage them to change it. This lines up with the most important goal of the high school: to help students learn.
Out-of-school suspensions do not support this goal. In fact, they work against the students. When students are suspended outside of school, it often drives them further in the wrong direction. Rather than being able to use the time to learn, they are sent home and temporarily kept out of the school community.
Out-of-school suspensions are intended to keep dangerous students away from students who could become potential victims. However, out-of-school suspensions do not help students complete the school work they are missing.
According to Professors Russell Skiba and Daniel Losen, who performed a study on suspension policies and statistics, students who miss school time with a suspension often feel as if they are not fully integrated into the school community on account of their missing time. Compounding this loss with falling behind academically is harmful to these students’ futures and makes them more likely to continue to act out.
The new Massachusetts law, which took effect during 2014, called An Act Relative to Student Access to Educational Services and Exclusion from School, attempts to remedy the problems caused by out-of-school suspensions. Known as Chapter 222, the law was designed to help suspended students stay on top of their school work.
This law was an important step in ensuring a suspension does not lead to a protracted chain of falling behind academically.
Though the high school’s policy prior to Chapter 222 already gave more in-school suspensions than other schools, the law pushed the high school to devote more resources, including hiring an In-school Suspension Coordinator to support students with in-school suspension.
These changes in the law reflect what the BHS Handbook says is the reason for suspension. The BHS Handbook says, “it is not the purpose of a suspension to adversely affect the student’s academic record.”
The progress made by Massachusetts is important to ensuring the academic success of all students. To force these students to also lose academic time robs them of their right to an education, and compounds the negative effects of lesser infractions.
Chapter 222 is an important measure to help the 10.1 percent of Massachusetts students who are suspended annually. The law also validates the hard work of Brookline educators who have made valuable advances in helping suspended students and should encourage them to continue in this vital work.