March 9, 2020
FOR IMMEDIATE RELEASE – “For the Children” Weekly Column
Contact: Joe Dorman, CEO – Oklahoma Institute for Child Advocacy
Telephone: (405) 833-1117
For the Children: A Weekly Column by Joe Dorman, CEO – OICA
OICA Opposes Effort to Allow Suspension for Youngest Students; Calls for Counseling First
The Oklahoma Legislature is debating for school suspensions increases again this year.
Oklahoma currently allows two suspension options for disruptive sixth grade students and older found guilty of assault and battery, for possessing alcohol or drugs on campus or at a school function, or for breaking local school policies. Those options are out-of-school suspensions and in-school suspensions. Schools are allowed to impose a maximum suspension for the current semester and entire next semester.
A group has been pushing lawmakers to also allow in-school suspensions for elementary students who misbehave. The Oklahoma Institute for Child Advocacy is instead offering a positive alternative to this “kick them out” mentality at all grade levels; ask the student what has caused them to act out before punishing them.
OICA has worked for the past three years to change policy to require counseling before any suspension. Counseling allows a school to determine whether a child is acting out due to abuse at home, bullying at school, or something worse. Under current law and with the proposed changes, a victim of abuse or mistreatment could be severely punished with no one first asking the student why he or she is acting this way.
OICA appreciates the need to maintain decorum in the classroom; we support districts’ ability to reasonably correct disruptive behavior. Still, it is important to find out what has caused a child to lash out rather than impose a punishment unjustly in ignorance to outside circumstances.
Currently under Oklahoma law, schools can work with local Youth Services programs to conduct counseling, and insurance covers much of this cost for most students; many schools still have refused to consider this option due to increased paperwork. If we really want to solve misbehavior, it is important for schools to ask “what happened to you” before “what is wrong with you”; counseling is the way to do this.
Making the situation worse for students is the fact no appeal for the length of a suspension exists beyond local administrators and school boards. It is sad that people on death row have more right to appeal than a student suspended from an Oklahoma school. For all of our state’s work for restorative justice for adult lawbreakers, Oklahoma still maintains a punitive and retributive justice mindset in many school districts. This comparison might seem tough, but student suspension has been statistically proven to be a pipeline to prison for far too many.
In Oklahoma City alone, more than 2,700 students accounted for 4,048 suspensions over the first semester of the 2019-20 school year. This amounted to a 33% increase compared to the first semester of the previous school year, according to school district data. This number will grow even worse if Oklahoma allow suspensions for Kindergarten through fifth grade.
We hope lawmakers “see the light” on this critical issue that can affect a student’s entire life ahead of them. The law should require an intervention before a student’s “conviction.” Please join us in our call for changes at the local and state level to ensure students receive the help they need rather than a suspension that could destroy their future.
This week’s child statistic is sponsored by Jill Levan – Six percent of Oklahomans have not attained a 9th grade education, according to the Oklahoma Department of Libraries.