The Highline School District recently set a goal of ending expulsions and out-of-school suspensions by 2015, except in cases of student or school safety.
It’s already well on the way to reaching that target.
As of the end of November, the district was projecting about 847 out-of-school suspensions and expulsions for this school year, which would be just a little more than half of last year’s total, and less than a third of the 3,193 in 2007-08.
In some schools, the decrease has been even more dramatic. Cascade Middle, for example, suspended just three students from September through November this school year, compared with 41 the year before.
Cascade Principal Diana Garcia says the reason is simple: Last school year, she persuaded Superintendent Susan Enfield to start an in-school suspension program at her school, called the Cascade Academy.
The middle school was able to hire an additional teacher to spend the day at the Academy with students who, in years past, would have been sent home. In the Academy classroom, students complete the work they’re missing in their regular classes. They also get a few minutes of exercise and time with a school counselor, who determines whether they need additional emotional support.
The idea is to give students time to think about the mistakes they made, while not damaging their education or making them feel rejected by the school, Garcia said.
“We know kids make mistakes,” she said. “Sending them home is punishment, but it’s not productive.”
Highline High has a similar pilot project, she said.
Sue McCabe, president of the local Highline teachers union, said teachers are happy with the district’s results to date but think more work and resources will be needed to reach the 2015 goal.
Two weeks ago, the federal government urged all school districts to expand alternatives to out-of-school discipline. Highline is one of the frontrunners in such efforts in this state.
Seattle Public Schools, where racial disparities in discipline are under investigation by the U.S. Department of Education, has said it, too, is looking for ways to reduce suspensions and expulsions.