New state law inspires change in school suspension policy

A look at the high school's current suspension policy and how it will change.

Charts+show+the+demographics+of+students+who+were+suspended+at+the+high+school+during+the+2013-2014+school+year.++Data+is+from+the+Massachusetts+Department+of+Education%27s+website.
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New state law inspires change in school suspension policy

Charts show the demographics of students who were suspended at the high school during the 2013-2014 school year.  Data is from the Massachusetts Department of Education's website.

Charts show the demographics of students who were suspended at the high school during the 2013-2014 school year. Data is from the Massachusetts Department of Education's website.

TUO JI/SAGAMORE STAFF

Charts show the demographics of students who were suspended at the high school during the 2013-2014 school year. Data is from the Massachusetts Department of Education's website.

TUO JI/SAGAMORE STAFF

TUO JI/SAGAMORE STAFF

Charts show the demographics of students who were suspended at the high school during the 2013-2014 school year. Data is from the Massachusetts Department of Education's website.

Kendall McGowan, News Managing Editor

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In previous school years, students who committed offenses were met with appropriate but fair consequences, including, if necessary, in or out-of-school suspensions, according to Associate Dean Melanee Alexander. However, in response to a 2012 act regarding suspensions and expulsions passed by the state legislature, the high school implemented a new in-school suspension program this year.

The act, known as Chapter 222 went into effect in July 2014, and charged public schools across the state with revising suspension and expulsion policies to ensure that students who are excluded from school as a form of discipline continue to make academic progress. The act also added requirements that districts and charter schools report all suspensions and expulsions, as well as the reasons for them, to the state.

Alexander said that the new law was partly motivated by the observation that with few restrictions on how punishments could be assigned, schools could allocate them arbitrarily and unequally, and this disproportionately affected students of color. According to data released by the Massachusetts Department of Secondary and Elementary education, in the 2013-14 school year, 9.3 percent of African American or Black high school and elementary school students were out-of-school suspended, compared to 7.7 percent  of Hispanic and Latino students, 4.6 percent  of Multi-race, non-Hispanic or Latino students, 2.4 percent of White students, and 1.2 percent of Asian students.

According to Associate Dean Lisa Redding, the high school has always reserved out-of-school suspensions for more extreme offenses like fighting, and did not have as much to change about its policy as other schools.

(Chapter 222) really didn’t affect Brookline High School. We don’t out-of-school suspend kids for walking out of class.”

— Associate Dean Lisa Redding

“I think a lot of other schools had to do a lot of changing, make a lot of changes to their handbooks, which said if you walk out of class, just walk out, you could be suspended,” Redding said. “We don’t do that, that’s not our way, but before Chapter 222 schools could kind of make their own school rules and have out of school suspension be a consequence, but that really didn’t affect Brookline High School. We don’t out-of-school suspend kids for walking out of class.”

The punishment of in-school suspension is more common. According to Alexander, she is more comfortable using this as a consequence because students are more likely to get work done at school than they are at home. However, she said that last year’s system, which had students sit in their Dean’s office for the day, was not fully conducive to work either.

“It’s hard to be productive here,” Alexander said. “I’m on the phone or running in and out, and the office can be loud sometimes. There are meetings going on. I’ve started a kid in the conference room and then a meeting would have to happen in the conference room so then I’d have to move the student into my office.”

To create a better system, the school hired an In-school Suspension Coordinator, Lisa Brown, and designated a room in the high school for in-school suspensions. Alexander said that she believes the new system is an entirely positive and productive method of handling students who commit offenses.

“I’ve been in there when my kids have been in there. They’re working, and Ms. Brown is helping them and I’m like, ‘This is awesome,’” Alexander said. “It’s great. They’re not getting behind, they’re getting help and they’re getting supported. That’s the thing. Kids mess up, they make mistakes, we expect that, and then we want them to learn from it and I like that we have Ms. Brown here to help support those kids. We’re not trying to punish you; We’re just like, ‘Here’s a consequence for your bad behavior, and now learn from it and let’s move on.’”

In-school Suspension Coordinator Lisa Brown sits in the room set aside for in-school suspensions. Brown was hired as a part of a new system the school is developing to discipline students. SAM KLEIN/SAGAMORE STAFF

 

According to Brown, who previously worked in Special Education in the Brookline School System for 14 years, students generally have a positive experience and are glad to have their work done.

“From what I’ve seen it’s been very effective,” Brown said. “Students come in and get their work done, and when they leave they’re always smiling… When some kids leave they’re fully caught up, they’re where they want to be, they’ve removed some stress, and sometimes stress is what causes us to react to certain situations. So if school was part of that stress and the school piece was maybe because you were behind or not understanding something in class, and this day helped with that in some way, they can go on with a little less stress and that’s good.”

Redding said that she went to a few workshops held to help Massachusetts administrators prepare as the law was about to change, and was able to closely scrutinize the amount of work the high school had to do compared to other high schools. According to Redding, the minimal amount of changes the high school had to make overall in response to the law made her proud.

“I felt really proud of all of the work that we do–everybody from teachers and social workers to administrators because it felt like, ‘Wow. We don’t have to change much,’” Redding said. “We pride ourselves in knowing kids, and having relationships with kids and trying to get in there before anything happens. So it was cool that I don’t think the law changed too much here at Brookline High School, or changed our in-school suspension for the better.”