Every year, over 1.5 million public school students face suspension or similar exclusionary policies due to behavior deemed “counterproductive” or “disruptive” by their districts or administrators. For students of color, the odds of being suspended are roughly three times that of their white counterparts.
Suspensions are a common disciplinary practice because they’re convenient and inexpensive in comparison to restorative measures. The problem? Suspensions aren’t effective in improving long-term student outcomes. In fact, the U.S. Department and Education and the DOJ released this joint statement on suspension effectiveness in 2014:
“Studies have suggested a correlation between exclusionary discipline policies and practices and an array of serious educational, economic, and social problems.”
In this post, we’ll examine three suspension alternatives that can be easily integrated into existing school policies at virtually any scale:
Disciplinary Alternative Education Programs (DAEPs)
The concept of a buddy classroom is simple enough - students demonstrating disruptive behavior are provided a change of scenery and de-escalation activity in another classroom. In practice, however, an effective buddy classroom system requires deliberate planning and consistency.
Classrooms should have designated de-escalation areas, predetermined activities, and periodic teacher check-ins. Perhaps most importantly, students must have a clear understanding of the buddy classroom process. It’s critical for students to understand that this is not simply an opportunity to reduce time spent on rigorous academic activities and that they’ll be expected to complete all activities missed in order to achieve their long-term academic goals.
The specific processes in place for a buddy classroom can (and should) vary based on the unique characteristics of your community’s student population, but an example might look something like this:
The fourth-grade team at Langston Elementary School has agreed to implement a buddy classroom system. Ms. Newton and Mr. McKee will partner up, as will Mrs. Jackson and Ms. Wilson. Each teacher implements a “cooldown area” in the corner of their classroom. When a student arrives from a buddy classroom, they have all the resources they need to articulate (in writing or drawing) the emotions they’re feeling. Students know that the buddy teacher will check in with them every 15 minutes with the expectation that the student will be ready to return to their classroom after 3 check-ins maximum. Students are expected to complete all missed academic work during recess (or after school, lunch, specials, etc).
For students who require buddy classrooms on an increasingly frequent basis, a more structured solution may be preferred.
2. Disciplinary Alternative Education Programs (DAEPs)
Buddy classrooms are a great option for students who require occasional time and space to de-escalate from disruptive behaviors, but this policy will likely prove unsustainable for students who require significant behavioral support several times per week (or per day). This is where Disciplinary Alternative Education Programs - or DAEPs - come into play.
As the name suggests, these programs acknowledge that traditional disciplinary measures (detention, suspension, expulsion) do little to help students self-correct disruptive or destructive behaviors. These traditional methods of discipline are focused more on convenience - isolate the student creating a disruptive environment to ensure that others can learn effectively. Rather than continuously suspending (and ultimately expelling) students with behavior issues, DAEPs are implemented to ensure that students are given the resources and support they need to achieve academic objectives while also preparing them for productive roles in a larger society.
Looking for specific examples? The most effective DAEPs are highly customized - often tailored to the needs of individual students. Many school districts, like Bryan ISD in Texas, post their DAEP vision and goals online.
3. Restorative Justice
Through restorative justice - also called restorative practices - stakeholders (teachers, administrators, classmates) seek to strengthen their relationship with a disruptive student rather than removing that student from the classroom environment, thereby eroding trust between the parties involved.
A policy of restorative justice must be implemented at the school-wide level, and requires a fundamental shift in approach to disruptive student behavior.
An example of restorative justice in action might look something like this: During an art project, Jordan gets up from his desk to get a pair of scissors. As he does, he accidentally slides his chair into Kyler’s back. Before Jordan can apologize, Kyler shoves Jordan against his desk, spilling paint everywhere in the process.
In a school with traditional disciplinary processes in place, Kyler could face suspension for this confrontation. However, research indicates that the restorative benefits of suspension are essentially nonexistent for the student exhibiting disruptive behavior, while the drawbacks - less instructional time, increased likelihood of chronic absenteeism, social alienation - are rampant.
If Jordan and Kyler attended a school with a policy of restorative justice in place, then suspension wouldn’t be the default outcome in this instance. All post-altercation decisions would be made through the lens of rebuilding the relationship between the two students and empowering Kyler to learn from his mistakes.
For example, Kyler, Jordan, and their teacher might set some time aside to talk through what happened and how the situation escalated. As an outcome of this conversation, Kyler may realize that it’s important to understand a situation before reacting to it. Because restorative justice seeks to repair the damage caused by a conflict, Kyler may also help the custodian clean up the mess caused by his altercation with Jordan.
There’s a mounting body of evidence that exclusionary discipline practices like suspension are ineffective when it comes to improving student outcomes. Alternatives to suspension can be systematized, efficient, and most importantly, effective when planned and executed properly.
At KlickEngage, we are working to ensure that children in low-income communities have equal opportunity to succeed academically. Want to learn more? Ask us a question here.