Nov 27

Group Critizes Virginia School Disciplinary Tactics

According to a new report, more than 90,500 individual students were suspended or expelled from Virginia schools during the 2010-11 academic year.  JustChildren, a legal aid program that advocates on behalf of low-income students, issued a report Thursday, November 17, 2011, that is critical of disciplinary practices at Virginia’s public schools.

According to the report, more than 90,500 individual students were suspended or expelled from Virginia schools during the 2010-11 academic year, many of them more than once. The study, presented at the Virginia Board of Education’s monthly meeting, also shows that there were more than 159,000 suspensions and expulsions at Virginia schools last year, including more than 27,700 to elementary school students.”When we looked at the data, we found that Virginia was overusing harsh disciplinary tactics, which have not been proven effective in improving student behavior or making schools safer,” said Angela A. Ciolfi, legal director for JustChildren and one of the authors of the study.

Most of the suspensions, the report said, stem from minor offenses, such as defiance, classroom disruption and misuse of electronic devices .Ciolfi went on to say that excluding students from school does not improve behavior and that high suspension rates are associated with low student achievement, high dropout rates and increased contact with the juvenile justice system.

Crystal Shin, an attorney with JustChildren, shared with the board the story of Dyrell Carr, who received a long-term suspension during his senior year in high school. Carr, now a student at North Carolina Central University, was on track to graduate with an advanced diploma and planned to attend Radford University. He was suspended in the fall of 2009 for trying to break up a fight when a teacher grabbed him. “I tried to deflect his hands and in the process pushed him away from me,” Carr wrote. He was suspended for assault on a teacher and sent to an alternative school that did not offer the courses he needed for the advanced diploma and ultimately was not accepted at Radford. “Suspensions push students off track of their educational goals,” he wrote. “Rather than kicking kids out of school for misbehavior, schools should find better solutions.”

Among the recommendations in the 17-page report is increasing the number of schools participating in the Effective Schoolwide Discipline initiative, a nonpunitive model that changes student behavior by changing adult behavior. Currently, 229 Virginia public schools — including 45 in the Richmond region — participate in the initiative.”We go in to change the practices of the educators … so they are learning how to give tiered support, tiers of intervention, so they are providing instructional support to students for self-management,” said Carolyn Lamm, who helped write the proposal to bring the discipline initiative to Virginia .She is the positive behavior support coordinator for Chesterfield County schools.

That positive reinforcement motivates students to do well on assessments and makes a difference in their lives, one Chesterfield educator said”  A key element in Effective Schoolwide Discipline establishes consistent and effective strategies that benefit all students,” said Bill Broyles, principal at Monacan High School.”Positive reinforcement is just that — a simple and powerful way to consistently encourage and motivate students to do more, do better and ultimately become self-motivated on many academic fronts.”