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Suspension not always best course

Thursday, February 6, 2014
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Punishing ill-behaved students by suspending them seems counterproductive — especially if the motivation for their misbehavior is the desire for a vacation.

Kids can’t learn when they’re not in school, though they can certainly get in trouble if they’re unsupervised. And it surely burdens teachers and fellow students when they come back oblivious to the material that’s been covered. Either they’ll need extra attention to get caught up, or they won’t even try while becoming more disruptive than ever.

Obviously there are offenses for which suspension is the only proper punishment, but other times a punishment more fitting the crime would make more sense.

Principals have some leeway to assign detention, in-school suspensions or even out-of-school suspensions for up to five days. Unfortunately, superintendents don’t have such discretion: When they get called in to address a disciplinary problem, their only choice is to augment a principal’s five-day suspension.

That would change under a bill sponsored by Assemblywoman Patricia Fahy, D-Albany, and Sen. Hugh Farley, R-Niskayuna, which Guilderland Superintendent Marie Wiles recently called a “no-brainer” in the Times Union.

Laurence Spring, Schenectady’s superintendent, also likes the idea of giving superintendents some discretion to mete out community service-type punishments that would constitute “restorative justice.” He cites, for example, making kids who paint graffiti clean it up; requiring those who steal to make restitution; and forcing students who fail to exercise self-control to get anger management counseling.

With federal Education Secretary Arne Duncan last month calling on schools to rethink their rigid discipline policies, and with roughly 5 percent of New York students suspended in a given year, the timing for this legislation couldn’t be more right.

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