Out of school suspensions have become a major disciplinary action engaged in by public schools in Illinois. Suspensions produce poor results with regular students and are educationally unsound for students in special education. Yet schools continue with this dreadful disciplinary action and then justify it with: “we don’t have many other options” or “we have a large number of other students to consider”; all the while, failing in their task to provide FAPE (Free Appropriate Public Education) to special education students.
It begs the question – If the handicapped child is classified as emotionally disturbed/behavior disordered then aren’t the behaviors not only expected but also the ones that the school should be teaching to and modifying? How does a child being out of school allow the school to do this?
1. Suspensions create missed Educational Opportunities – When a special education student misses school, he looses out on direct special education services and the opportunities to interact with others. Generally a suspension occurs as a result of an inappropriate behavior. During the suspension, educating on content is lost and the ability to teach appropriate behaviors is as well.
2. Suspensions reward inappropriate behaviors – Most special education students would rather be in any place but in their class. By using out of school suspensions, schools reward the child for an inappropriate behavior by giving them a day or so off from school. And if the child is allowed to maintain normal activities at home, ie: watch tv, etc. it merely compounds the ineffectiveness of the suspension.
3. Suspensions are self motivating – The first time a school decides to suspend a child for swearing at a teacher, arguing, fighting or other types of unacceptable behaviors, it becomes easier each time to use. Why? Because suspensions solve the school’s immediate problem, getting rid of a disruptive student. It becomes an easy fix. Unfortunately, it is a poor solution because it does nothing to modify behavior and in fact reinforces inappropriate ones.
At a local junior high in this area, they frequently have food fights in the cafeteria, resulting in out of school suspensions for those involved. One would think that after a dozen more subsequent incidents, that the school would realize that the consequences weren’t effective. I would suggest that the school did have other options for modifying behaviors. What about providing additional time at school when the school day is over or on Saturdays and requiring the cleaning of the cafeteria as a consequence? Schools usually don’t do this because it would mean that they would have to spend the extra time supervising the students. A wise parent does, however, realize that when they use effective discipline it frequently means that they may have to suffer a bit initially to achieve the desired long term result.
A child with a handicapping condition is being cheated by the public schools when an out of school suspension occurs. The school has failed to provide appropriate actions to address the behavior(s) that led to the need for special education services in the first place.
It is time for Illinois schools to rethink out of school suspensions and in many cases their entire method of disciplining children and to start using educationally sound thinking – after all we are entrusting the schools to educate and using logic should be part of the education process.