There has been a push to eliminate suspensions in Baltimore. This is due to national data on suspension leading to strengthening a “school-to-prison pipeline.” This has been challenging because without suspensions teachers and administrators feel like they don’t have the support or resources needed to handle the challenging behaviors that students bring.
Though many hope that strict discipline (also known as Zero Tolerance) will deter future bad behavior through sending a strong message to the person breaking the rule (and to others), research shows that:
Zero tolerance policies actually increase challenging behaviors and thus suspensions.
Zero tolerance discourages people in authority from using their discretion to change punishments to fit the circumstances, and from taking the time to understand the underlying causes.
In Baltimore (using 2014 data) African American students make up 84% of all students, but they represent 95% of students who are suspended or expelled. Students with disabilities and African- American students are more severely punished for the same infraction.
Schools with higher rates of suspension have lower school climate ratings and a larger police presence.
The overarching problem with this style of discipline is that over the past 40 years, more and more students have been exposed to a range of traumas, including: loss of family members to death and imprisonment; hunger; homelessness; fewer stable community based supports for families and children and other serious issues stemming from a disinvestment in Black cities and neighborhoods. If a child’s misbehavior stems from trauma, it often keeps getting expressed until the crisis is recognized and somehow addressed. Schools need more resources (social workers, parent liaisons, therapists, counsellors) to address these issues.
One strategy that the district has launched in some schools is called has Restorative Practices. RP means regularly conducting community building circles where students and teachers talk about their lives, build relationships and build a community of care and support. It is first and foremost a preventative measure. It is also an approach to problem solving that focuses on the root cause of the problem. When there is a challenge, is actively addressing problems through conversations that bring all parties together to unearth the root cause of the issue. It is also a different way of coming up with consequences for behavior that fit with situation at hand and address the concerns of all involved (teachers, students, victims and perpetrators).
Though the district is trying to implement RP, many teachers have not yet gotten enough support in learning how to build a classroom community and schools do not have a full range of support personnel who can help students who are in deep crisis.
Findings retrieved from: www.marylandpublicschools.org; Are Zero Tolerance Policies Effective in Schools: An Evidentiary Review and Recommendations; American Psychological Association Zero Tolerance Task Force