When I was in high school, I was at risk several times of being suspended: one time in ninth grade for an altercation and another time in 10th grade for class disruption. But my principal never gave up on me.
I went on to graduate from that same high school with a 4.0 GPA and I am currently a successful student at Trinity College with a 3.9 GPA. I am also a Black woman from New York City.
Sadly, when it comes to school suspensions, many students don’t receive the same extra chances that I did. And the suspensions they often do receive can alter their lives irreversibly.
Many children in Connecticut public schools lose critical education time in the classroom as a result of suspensions. Students in Connecticut are suspended as early as pre-school. Despite the government’s efforts to limit the use of suspensions in preschool through second grade, these children continue to be suspended at an alarming rate. There were more than 1,000 suspensions of kids in kindergarten through second grade during the 2018-2019 school year.
The suspension rates are much higher for high school students. In comparison to other grade levels, ninth- and tenth-grade students have the highest suspension rates. In 2019-2020, there were 4,474 suspensions involving ninth-grade students and 4,022 suspensions involving tenth-grade students in Connecticut. Many were suspended for behavioral misconduct such as a physical altercation, fighting, throwing an object, and verbal threats or harassment.
Suspensions, in theory, are designed to improve the learning environment and dissuade students from future misconduct. In actuality, they have become a convenient way for schools to exclude certain children who often need a little extra attention. The American Institute for Research recently released a study that shows that in-school and out-of-school suspensions are ineffective methods for dealing with student misbehavior in middle and high schools.
Simply removing a student from the school environment does nothing to deal with their underlying issues. While suspended, students lose critical education time. They are left unsupervised and without constructive activities. This means they only fall further behind when they return to school and become even more disengaged. Suspensions have a detrimental effect on students’ learning outcomes, attendance, and future behavior. Suspended students have a lower likelihood of graduating from high school or college and are more likely to be arrested or put on probation.
The effects of suspension on preschool to second-grade students are even worse. These children are typically between the ages of three and eight. They are just discovering the world, figuring out how to connect with their peers, and adjusting to life without their parents. They are just beginning to comprehend their emotions and how to express them. Isolating these children from one of the most important places for their social development will have long-lasting consequences. It contributes directly to the widening of the educational achievement gap and the expansion of the school-to-prison pipeline.
If suspensions have been shown to be ineffective, why are they still being used?
State-wide programs such as the Early Childhood Community Consultation Partnership and the Child Health and Development Institute are working to provide interventions for children who are at risk of suspension due to behavioral or mental health issues.
However, this is not enough. Limiting suspensions for only preschool through second grade has done little to nothing to improve long-term educational outcomes. We must take the work further and abolish suspensions altogether for students who simply disrupt classrooms or defy school authorities.
In 2019, California successfully enacted Senate Bill 419, which prohibited the suspension of students in kindergarten through fifth grade for “willful defiance,” and for a five-year trial period will also prohibit such suspensions for students in middle school grades 6 through 8. California schools are no longer permitted to suspend their students for interrupting school activities or violating lawful authority.
Critics may argue that this will lead to an increase in disruption and contribute to an overall hostile learning environment. However, suspensions do little to nothing to address the student’s underlying issues. Schools need to allocate more resources to better understand their students. School safety officers should be replaced with more guidance counselors and social workers. These professionals would serve as an additional support system for children and provide them with the resources needed to excel. Children with increased behavioral issues could be assigned a guidance counselor who they will meet daily. These counselors would work with both the child and their families to ensure that the children will be focusing solely on school and getting the best experience possible.
Every student deserves to learn in a safe and supportive environment with skilled educators who hold them to high standards. They deserve a principal like mine who will not give up on them.
Thursday Williams is a rising senior at Trinity College, double majoring in Public Policy & Law and Human Rights Studies. She is also co-president of Trinity College Black Women’s Organization.