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January 24, 2015 at 6:05 PM

Guest: Six common myths about student discipline

Sarah Yatsko

Sarah Yatsko

The rate of out-of-school suspensions and expulsions has doubled since the early 1970s, even as rates for juvenile crime and violence in schools have both sharply declined.

In 2013, Washington state improved the laws that govern suspensions and expulsions. In recent weeks, The Seattle Times has highlighted how some school systems are rethinking discipline policies. These are hopeful signs, but some pervasive and persistent myths prevent our education system from truly facing up to the overuse of what should be a tool of last resort.

Myth 1: It’s rare that a child is suspended or expelled.

Last year, Washington schools levied more than 68,000 suspensions and expulsions, according to the state Office of Superintendent of Public Instruction (OSPI). Rates peaked at the end of middle school, with nearly one out of every 10 eighth graders suspended or expelled. One out of every 65 all-day kindergarteners was also excluded from school for behavior.

Myth 2: Most students are suspended or expelled because they’re dangerous.

Aside from fights — which made up 15 percent of suspensions and expulsions — only 7 percent of all reported suspensions and expulsions in Washington in 2013 and 2014 were for violence, according to OSPI data. More than half of all suspensions and expulsions fall in the discretionary “other behavior” category, which does not include alcohol, bullying, drugs, fighting or violence.

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Comments | More in Guest opinion, Opinion | Topics: Center on Reinventing Public Education, discipline, Sarah Yatsko