Should the District End Suspensions for Elementary Students?

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Members of city council are working to end suspensions in elementary school. Councilmembers Blondell Reynolds Brown and Helen Gym will introduce a resolution on Thursday calling on and urging the School District of Philadelphia to permanently prohibit the suspension of elementary-aged students from first through fifth grades.

It’s an issue that resonates with Sandra Serrano, whose grandson was suspended when he was a first grader. 

“I thought it was a waste of time to do that to a first grader because they would lose the learning on that day,” Serrano said. “They would lose everything and besides it makes us waste some money for somebody to come and take care of them because we have to work.”

The Philadelphia School District has been working to address out of school suspensions across all grades. Last year the district banned the suspension of kindergartners, with some exceptions. A coalition of educational advocates and parental groups pushed for city council to extend the suspension ban for elementary school students.

“There’s been a reduction in expulsions, arrests, suspensions and disciplinary actions and all of this reduces that pipeline to prison,” Karyn Lynch, Chief of Student Support Services, said.

While Lynch acknowledged some students have been suspended for bodily harm to another child or adult, some parents say their children have been suspended for non-violent offenses, such as talking out of turn and being disrespectful.

“They’re particularly harmful to black students and students with disabilities who are disproportionately suspended,” Alex Dutton, of the Education Law Center said.

School leaders say they hope the effort to ban elementary-school suspensions also comes with more help.

“I would hope with that resolution there would also be consideration about the resources that would fill the gaps in delivery that we have within our school,” Lynch said.

The Philadelphia School District released the following statement on the resolution.

The District’s annual student suspension data continues to decline and demonstrates our commitment to reducing suspensions while improving the environment and safety in our schools.  We said last year we are considering ending suspensions in additional early grades and we continue to look at that possibility.  Our goal is to increase the time a student spends in school, because the more time a student spends in school the greater the likelihood they will read on grade level, graduate, and be prepared for college, career, and life.

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