Weighing the Cost of School Suspensions in Massachusetts

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The New England Center for Investigative Reporting recently reported findings detailing disciplinary trends within the public education system of Massachusetts.

According to the analysis, almost 200,000 school days were lost to out-of-school and in-school suspensions and expulsions during the 2009-2010 school year.

The organization said that days lost to suspension or expulsions during the timeframe were equal to about 10 percent of the 172 million school days accumulated by the state’s nearly 1 million public school students.

The analysis reports that while the Boston school system is more likely to expel students permanently, the Worchester school system ultimately totaled up more lost school days due to disciplinary actions, with approximately 5,000 lost school days compared to the capital city’s estimated 2,765.

The analysis also found that more than 2,000 students, some as young as age 4, were suspended from the state’s early elementary programs, which entails pre-kindergarten to third grade classes.

The most recent national data from the United States Department of Education’s Office of Civil Rights found that more than three million students were suspended or expelled from the nation’s public school systems in 2006. According to the data, black males were expelled at six times the rate of white males; with suspension rates that were double that of their Caucasian classmates.

“It doesn’t take a leap of imagination to know that if you take children with problems and throw them onto the street with little or no education, we’re going to breed a society of criminals,” said Canton, Mass. Attorney Sam Schoenfeld, who has represented several expelled and suspended students following disciplinary actions taken by the state’s school districts .

Several members of the Massachusetts Teacher Association, however, have denied allegations that African-American students are being subjected to different disciplinary standards than white students in Massachusetts’s educational system.

According to Jackie Lawrence, a Somerville, Mass. teacher, state educators “don’t see children in different colors. We see students.” Additionally, she said that stricter disciplinary actions were necessary as a means of ensuring school safety.

“A zero tolerance policy shows students and their families that there is no wiggle room for extreme behaviors,” she noted.


Photo: flickr, N.D. Strupler

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