Suspensions rising across school board
By Jenn Watt
Published March 14, 2019
Many more suspensions and expulsions were handed out to students in the Trillium Lakelands District School Board in the period between September and January of this school year than during the same period last year, or the year before that.
The school board received updated numbers at its Feb. 26 meeting from Dave Golden, superintendent of learning, which showed 853 suspensions and expulsions during the five-month period, up from 744 in the same time frame in the previous school year, 2017-2018.
In 2016-2017, for the period from September to January, the number was 523.
There were three expulsions and five mediations out of the 853 occurrences, according to a board highlights document circulated after the meeting.
The increase can be attributed to changing practices in managing unacceptable student behaviour, Larry Hope, director of education told the Times, as well as provincial regulations that require schools to report all one- to three-day suspensions.
Hope said last year he visited secondary schools, speaking privately with groups of about a dozen students each time, to find out what they were thinking about the education system.
“Overall, the number one thing that I took from those discussions in our seven secondary schools was that we need to have higher expectations,” he said.
“... I think what you’re seeing with the numbers is really our school administrators and school staff responding to, first of all, a call for greater, higher expectations but also a call to action to say there are things happening that are unacceptable. And that would likely be why we’ve seen such a jump in particularly the one-day suspensions.”
The statistics reflect elementary and secondary school students combined.
Of the 853 suspensions and expulsions, 265 were one-day suspensions and 142 were two days. There were 36 students who had two one-day suspensions and eight students had three one-day suspensions.
Hope said suspensions make a difference with some students, who learn from the experience, and they also ensure a safe environment for staff and other students at the school.
“Absolutely, it’s about other students in some instances. Particularly when there’s aggression toward staff, we simply can’t have that going on. We just can’t. And I’ve yet to find a parent who says we should accept that kind of behaviour,” he said.
A plan of action is created for students who are sent home and conversations happen with parents about improving the situation, he said. Hope also listed various resources for parents including support videos, guests brought in to give workshops and lectures, Parents Reaching Out initiatives, and community partners who help in the schools.
Statistics are not provided by school or geographically to avoid revealing details about specific students, however, details are provided about reasons for suspensions/expulsions board-wide.
The most common reason for students to be suspended was “conduct injurious [to the] moral tone [of the school],” with 208 during the September to January time frame. The second most common reason was “conduct contrary to code of conduct,” with 174.
Hope said schools need parents and guardians to help them when student behaviour becomes a problem.
“We’re not working against moms and dads, we want to work with them,” he said. “Sometimes you have to accept a bump in the [suspension] numbers like we’re seeing right now before we can get at some of the heart of some of the difficulties.”
He emphasized his respect for this group of students, praising their conscientious nature and high level of acceptance.
“We have many, many wonderful examples of this young generation of students with a social conscience like we’ve never seen before, with a level of acceptance of their peers and others who are unlike them that we’ve never seen before. And I think we should be fiercely proud of that,” he said.
“... Really, the narrative of this story for us is, we can do better for a cohort of our students who need us to help them be better, who need us to help them understand the rules and the expectations and the limitations, in some instances.”