ARTICLE

Student Expulsion is a Last Resort

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. 

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.