Student Expulsion is a Last Resort

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Ms. Simmons had two first-grade boys by the arms.

“Fighting in the bathroom,” she said. “Send them home.” 

It’s the second week of day camp hosted at our school. The policy is strict: Two strikes and you’re out. 

On the one hand, it makes sense. It’s summer camp. Camp should be safe and enjoyable for all children. It’s hard to feel comfortable when you’re worried there might be a fight. There’s no mandate for children to be here. It’s optional and a privilege.

On the other hand, if these kids are sent home and not allowed to return, we’re excluding them from the positive, structured environment of the camp. The kids who have the most difficulty dealing with frustration are probably the kids who most need to be here. And, without the chance to build relationships with school personnel now, these students will be even more challenging when school resumes in the fall.

It makes me reflect on the whole notion of expulsion in schools. Undoubtedly, some extreme events occur that, for reasons of safety, necessitate this consequence. However, many expulsions arise from a lack of adult intervention: too little, too late. 

Expulsion should only be a last resort. I have unfortunately worked in schools where the dean encouraged us to “write up” certain students because “we need to get them out of here.” The most effective methods of discipline are inspired by effective families, who generally do not give up on their own. Experienced parents know: Kids mess up. They make mistakes. If you guide them, they learn from those mistakes. They grow. If you make them feel safe, they’ll share their vulnerabilities. If you consistently expect the best from them, they’ll strive to deliver that.

When we tell kids they’re not welcome back, we’re essentially saying that they’re beyond redemption and that we’ve given up. We can’t disown our children. It contradicts the idea of education, of growing empowered humans. There must be a better way.

Instead of banishment, some schools work to move students to another school they know and trust within the network or district. That way the student is not technically expelled, but does experience a change in environment which he may very well need. Others use mediation, restorative justice, or other alternative or preventative discipline strategies to address the types of behaviors that sometimes culminate in expulsion. 

We must remember that at the same time as we are busy academic establishments, enriching intellect, producing test scores, abiding by mandates, we are also a nest. Schools are the safe haven wherein children develop until they are ready to fly on their own. We must challenge ourselves to consider all the options before kicking out any student.     

Craven is a language arts paraprofessional in Louisiana.

Comments

I just wanted to comment that

Submitted by Denise Kowalick on 24 July 2012 - 10:31am.

I just wanted to comment that although expulsion is not something that needs to be done in all cases it is the only remedy in some. Most schools do not have the manpower to monitor children who are so needy that their only means of getting attention is to become violent in a classroom or lunchroom. We have 20 to 30 other students to worry about. Teaching in a 77% ESL population school I have my hands full just keeping my class on task without having to deal with students who have decided that fighting will get them my attention. Having worked in an inner city east coast school for many years I also know that gang violence, dysfunctional families and lack of parental involvement cause many of the issues we see there. Yes, these children need help but teachers are not parents and we cannot be held responsible for the actions of our students nor can we parent them. Parents need to become more involved and be held responsible for their children and in some cases after mediation and counseling don't work, expulsion is necessary. There are programs that do work for these students and special schools for those who need the extra help, unfortunately those cost money that most BoE do not have to expend and in this economy neither do parents. Schools should be a safe haven for all students not just those who need our attention. Parents need to step up and work with teachers not against them and they need to stop looking to us to be scapegoats for bad parenting.
One other comment, if the rule is two strikes it is the rule and the boys and parents are aware of it. We are taking these boys out of a "positive, structured environment" that they do not appreciate as such. It is a privilege to be at this camp and by revoking that privilege aren't we teaching them that some things have to be earned just like in real life? Things like raises, jobs, good grades? We are raising generations of kids who think that we owe them because 'they exist' and not because they earned what they get. How many immediate gratification students can you handle in a classroom?

Carrie, I think this very

Submitted by S. Sansbury on 24 July 2012 - 7:41pm.

Carrie, I think this very thoughtful. Thanks.

That was a great article that

Submitted by Alicen on 28 July 2012 - 6:28am.

That was a great article that you wrote but when I read that the dean encouraged teachers to "write up" certain students just to get them out of there it makes you realize where the concept of bullying may come from. When that dean singled those children out he became the bully and made the teachers his helpers. I am sure the child may have felt this and in turn acted out even more. I never really thought that some teachers, like that dean, would actually do that. I was glad to see that you used it in the past tense so that you are no longer there. You seem like a caring compassionate teacher who has undoubtedly made in a difference in the lives of children and will continue to do so. Kudos to you and keep up the good work.

I applaud that dean who had

Submitted by J on 31 July 2012 - 10:29pm.

I applaud that dean who had the nerve and gumption to do something about not tolerating that type of behavior in schools. So many students do the right thing every single day and are ignored for their efforts, while others prevent teachers from doing their jobs and other students from learning. It is about time someone stepped up and did something about it.

I work in an impoverished

Submitted by Drew Butler on 22 September 2012 - 8:52am.

I work in an impoverished high school. I deal with kids that have not lifted a finger for academic work this entire school year. They literally have zeros in my class. However, they dont simply sit in the back and stay quiet either. They throw paper balls, yell profanities when they wish, play on their cell phones, eat food...all of which is against the rules and 90% of the class follows. However, they make my job miserable. It is a daily battle to maintain order in the class because of them. The other 30+ students in the class suffer because of them...so yes. I document their actions. I write them up. My goal...is to have them expelled ASAP as long as they continue with their behavior. How long will we let 2-3 kids per class burn our education system to the ground? 27th in the world for effective public education? 1st in spending? What a crock of s**t...Take the bad apples out.