The city’s school district will no longer issue out-of-school suspension to children in kindergarten through second grade, announced state-appointed district superintendent Donnie Evans on Wednesday night.
Evans said the district will no longer mete out out-of-school suspensions to students in pre-school through second grade effective November 1st, 2016. This follows a report last week in the Paterson Press that highlighted 238 students in kindergarten through second grade were given out-of-school suspension in school year 2015-16.
“Many in the community, including myself, were both troubled by this data and immediately challenged to change such outcomes for our children,” said Evans. He issued a memorandum directing principals to find “creative, yet impactful interventions for students who otherwise may be suspended out-of-school.”
“This is a great first step,” said school board president Christopher Irving. School board members wanted an alternative to out-of-school suspension to help the children who are being suspended for “major offenses.”
Jonathan Hodges, who is on the curriculum committee which reviewed suspension data, said the students are being suspended for a variety of reasons including attacking classmates and teachers.
“It’s not behavior you would normally see in a student who is this age. They are bringing drugs to the school,” said Hodges.
“Weapons,” chimed in Irving.
“Weapons, knives, and guns. They are angry, they are filled with rage, and they are taking it out on their classmates,” said Hodges.
Board member Kenneth Simmons said the students are not going out on the street to buy the drugs and guns. He suggested much of it is coming from a negative home environment. “That just makes the problem worse,” he said of suspending youngsters. “You’re just putting them back to the environment that’s causing them the most harm.”
Evans said the parents are reported to child protective services when an incident arises.
“I’m not one to punish young children. Just saying we’re not going to punish you is not going to change the problem. We need behaviorists, people who can come in, and provide meaningful interventions. If you’re not going to do these things all you’re going to do is expose other students to that kind of behavior which could be harmful to other people,” said Hodges.
“To me suspension is surrender. It’s easy. Just stay home: five days, ten days. Nothing happens,” added Errol Kerr.
School board members wanted to see a list of interventions the district will utilize in place of out-of-school suspension. Evans said a committee being formed under the watch of deputy superintendent Eileen Shafer will complete a report by late December that will list strategies and interventions.
Board member Lilisa Mimms said the incidents are a result of emotional problems being experienced by the students.
“Some of these students are expressing rage that’s extraordinary,” said Hodges.
“It’s sad,” interjected Irving.
“The child’s whole life can be a problem if we don’t address it in that particular point in time,” Hodges.