New approach on suspensions

New approach on suspensions

Getting kids on the wrong track on the right track is a problem that has bedeviled educators for generations.

Champaign school officials appear to be on the verge of trying a new approach to handling students who chronically misbehave in school and face out-of-school suspensions.

Rather than suspend the students, they wish to create a special environment where these young people can develop social skills and improve their academics.

Good luck with that. It would be great to be wrong, but it's hard to imagine that something so basic as what's being proposed actually will have the desired effect.

In devising this program, which would cost an estimated $200,000 a year, school officials confront the most obvious of all facts — students who are loafing around at home on suspension are not in class learning. In other words, it's a net negative, assuming, of course, that they were learning anything to begin with.

Assistant superintendent Laura Taylor was absolutely correct when she said that "you lose their learning opportunities" when they are out of school,

What's important to remember, however, is that the school district's motive for suspending students who repeatedly misbehave is not educational. Students are suspended not so they can learn, but so their classmates can learn in an environment free of the chaos and disorder misbehaving students generate.

If the district can separate suspended students from their regular classrooms while simultaneously offering them a more positive alternative than hanging out at home, fine. But that's easier said than done.

Part of the proposed program devised by the school district results from district administrator Orlando Thomas' conversations with 25 students who had been suspended more than three times.

"They said to succeed, they needed teachers to respect them, a mentor to help them when they need a break or help staying eligible for sports because that's all they care about," according to The News-Gazette's summary of their conversations.

The suspended students' perceptions of their needs and what they view as important outline the depth of this serious problem. For starters, it's a self-serving view that rejects responsibility for their misbehavior.

They may feel they need respect. But do they deserve respect? All students should be treated politely, but respect is earned. It's not handed out to pacify the classroom troublemaker.

Sports is all they care about? Participation in sports programs can provide an incentive to work and behave in the classroom. But the mind-set is reflective of a deep problem, the inability to see themselves as successful young people or adults filling important social roles apart from the athletic field.

These young people — who will range in age from kindergarten through high school — deserve the public's sympathy and the school district's support, not for how they act but for the damage they are unknowingly doing to their life prospects.

Many of them come from disadvantaged backgrounds and the social pathologies are well known — chaotic and fractured families, poverty, violence, lack of regard for the importance of an education. Unfortunately, these problems are growing worse, and the schools can only play a limited role — five to six hours a day, five days a week — addressing them. Apart from the $200,000 cost in an already tight budget, there's no reason they shouldn't pursue this experiment.

But everyone should go into it with their eyes wide open. If it was this easy, it would have been done a long time ago.

Sections (2):Editorials, Opinion
Categories (2):Editorials, Opinions

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Sid Saltfork wrote on April 15, 2013 at 12:04 pm

There were programs like this back in the 60's.  They were called the U.S. Military branches. They were primarily the army, navy, and marines.  They promoted discipline, and learning.  G.E.D.s were earned along with college degrees.  Any program developed needs discipline in order to achieve self-discipline.  Otherwise; it is just babysitting with classes.  The source of the problem does not go away.  It is only delayed.

Iampbf wrote on April 15, 2013 at 5:04 pm

Whomever is responsible for this commentary did not do their research.  These types of Alternative to Suspension programs exist in public schools across the country.  Just google "alternatives to suspension" and see what you get.  I don't mind expression of opinion, but before you criticize an initiative to help our students, please have evidence to back up your opinion.  As a public educator, I am appalled at the lack of knowledge you have about public education and the needs our students and their families have in this community. 

What is distinct about our community is that we have many urban issues that are putting our kids in crisis, but our school district and community still function with small town values and programming in generating successful interventions for our kids. There is so much research on how punishments and standard, public school discipline systems having little to no effect on student misbehavior.  It's about helping the students who struggle to find school meaningful make connections and build relationships with positive adults in the school environment.  Only then will we see behavioral change in our most at-risk youth. 

It's time for C-U schools to catch up to other, similar public school systems in regard to our alternative programming so ALL students in our community can exel beyond high school.  What's better for our community in the long run?  Continuing to suspend them and expel them to the streets, resulting in more drop outs or providing alternative programming to encourage students to stay in school and get a diploma?  Come on!

sacrophyte wrote on April 16, 2013 at 10:04 pm

I wrote a letter to the editor; since such letters do not show up online, I am copying it here:



I had a chance to speak with Mr. Jim Dey in regards to his Saturday editorial on Unit 4’s proposed Temporary Alternative Learning Placement (TALP) program. Mr. Dey clarified that he supports the program but remains skeptical about whether it will have any positive impact. I felt the article did not convey a sense of support whatsoever, but instead projects a mindset of a white dominant majority.

I have a challenge for the Editorial Board of the News-Gazette; I challenge the Editors to go and meet some of these “misbehaving students”, to see the various environments (high school classrooms, READY, the Novak Academy), and then to write an editorial about their experiences and findings.

The reason I issue this challenge is based on the Champaign Public Library’s recent theme of Civility. One of the tenets of Civility is to get engaged, to see of whom you speak. When I spoke with Mr. Dey on the phone, I asked him if he knew any of the children and young adults whom he feels does not deserve respect. He did not. I will confess I do not either. Perhaps we should go together to meet the “classroom troublemaker.”

The true chronic problem, in my opinion, is that society is not stepping up to the plate to provide an environment that puts these young ones on a path where they can participate in and be a part of community; instead we ostracize and all too often doom them in a failing “correctional system.”


-- charles schultz