Chalkbeat published a teacher’s response to the city’s changes to its discipline guidelines. Emmy Bouvier, an elementary school teacher in Brooklyn, wrote a First Person lauding the DOE’s decision to ban suspensions for K-2.
Critically, Bouvier tackles head-on the most common defense of suspensions:
In several schools where I have worked, I’ve often heard the following rationalization for suspending students who present challenging behavior: “Should the needs of one or two students take precedence over the needs of the whole group?” Why instead aren’t we asking ourselves, “Whose needs are constantly being compromised for the needs of the majority?”
That’s an interesting proposed alternative question. I’m not sure that’s the angle I would take; after all, in any group dynamic the needs of the individual are always in some ways compromised for the needs of the majority. The better question is, Since we know that there are other ways to reduce maladaptive behaviors that don’t involve exclusion, why aren’t we using them?
Ross Greene in Lost and Found says we should always use the “least toxic response” to a challenging behavior (a corollary to the “least restrictive environment”). Out of school suspensions rarely fit this criteria.
In a second grade class I once taught, five of my students were black boys. The only suspensions given to students in their grade that year were for three of these boys, two of whom were suspended multiple times by the administration for behavior like having a tantrum. Did suspensions change the behavior of these students? No. Did suspensions further alienate these students and their families from the school? Yes. Even in second grade, students realize when they aren’t wanted in a space, and it can become difficult for them to distinguish the adults’ responses to unwanted behavior from a feeling of exclusion, that they aren’t wanted in general.
This is textbook restorative discipline, and one can only hope Ms. Bouvier’s view becomes more common. This is also a brave article to write considering that the author’s school–Achievement First–has boasted suspension rates of up to 22 percent in years past. Despite urging from many corners, it doesn’t appear that the large charter networks have done much if anything to move toward restorative practices.
One thing I’m still confused about with the city’s new guidelines is whether in-school suspensions will also be banned. In Meyer and Evans’s School Leader’s Guide to Restorative Discipline, in-school suspension is laid out as an important part of a schoolwide restorative system (as long as it is accompanied by opportunities to teach reflect). Yet, one could make the case that even an in-school suspension does exclude and send the message that students are not wanted (or at least it can if not framed correctly).