Education is necessary for all of our children

Even suspended or expelled students have a right to learn too


Published:

Every parent knows what it’s like to get a reluctant student up and out the door on a gray winter morning. We deliver little homilies on the importance of education. We tell them that missing school days puts them behind their classmates, and that catching up is extremely difficult.

New Hampshire is considering legislation that would require school districts to provide education for students who are missing school because of suspension or expulsion. Some districts already do this, but students in districts that do not are missing out on valuable education.

All the arguments we make to our own children about skipping class apply equally to these kids, if not more so. House Bill 581, requiring schools to continue the education of a child during the child’s suspension or expulsion, does not attempt to tell school districts how to deliver education to suspended or expelled students.

The most common reason that schools cite for suspension is simply “other,” which can mean using foul language, violating a dress code and so on. “Other” is the cited reason in 18 percent of expulsions.

Study after study shows that kids who are suspended or expelled are at risk of dropping out and of getting in trouble with the law. That’s bad news for them and for the rest of us, who pay a high burden in taxes and in quality of life when a child is not prepared to be a successful, contributing member of our community.

Keep in mind that kids who are suspended or expelled were not necessarily already on track to have these bad outcomes. A review of disciplinary data from New Hampshire schools showed that 60 percent of suspensions were not for dangerous behaviors, such as involving weapons or drugs. The most common reason that schools cite for suspension is simply “other,” which can mean using foul language, violating a dress code and so on. “Other” is the cited reason in 18 percent of expulsions.

A Texas study found that 31 percent of public school students who were expelled or suspended repeated a grade, compared with only 5 percent of students who were not disciplined in those ways. Think of the cost of a repeated year of school, both to the child and the taxpayer. Multiple studies show that students who are suspended or expelled are at high risk of dropping out. This is particularly true for special education students, who are suspended at four times the rate of their peers in New Hampshire.

In addition, schools with the highest rates of students qualifying for free and reduced price school lunch suspend students at four times the rate of our wealthiest districts. While 4 percent of white male students are suspended in New Hampshire schools annually, 15 percent of African-American male students are suspended.

In addition, children who experience exclusionary discipline are three times as likely to come into contact with the juvenile justice system in the following year. The federal Centers for Disease Control found that smoking, drug use and sexual activity all increase when children are not attending school.

The primary responsibility of a young person from about ages 5 to 18 is to be a student. The current system allows them to ignore that responsibility. In the height of irony, we suspend students for truancy.

It is the business of schools, along with parents and the wider community, to teach young people how to behave in a respectful and civil manner. Teaching good behavior sometimes involves punishment. But that punishment should never include denying the right and the responsibility to learn.

Rep. Mary Gile, D-Concord, and Rep. Ralph Boehm, R-Litchfield, are members of the House Education Committee.

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