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Arkansas schools urged to reconsider punishments; advocacy group criticizes heavy use of suspensions

by Cynthia Howell | February 4, 2019 at 4:30 a.m.

More than two thirds of all disciplinary actions in Arkansas public schools last school year consisted of in- and out-of-school suspensions, a practice that can exacerbate academic problems for students already struggling to learn, a new report says.

There were 109,133 in-school suspensions and 54,091 out-of-school suspensions, making up 69 percent of disciplinary sanctions levied in the state that has 478,318 public school students. Corporal punishment, or paddling -- 15,453 incidences -- made up 6 percent of disciplinary actions in Arkansas, which is one of 19 states in the nation that permits the use of corporal punishment in public schools.

That's all according to "School Discipline That Works: Better Options for Helping All Kids Learn and Thrive," released last week by Arkansas Advocates for Children and Families and Arkansas Opportunity to Learn Campaign.

Additional disciplinary measures include assignment of students to alternative learning environments and expulsions.

Ginny Blankenship, education policy director for the nonprofit Arkansas Advocates for Children and Families and author of the report, wrote that there is growing evidence that the "outdated school discipline policies are doing more harm than good" and that suspensions and spanking "are not only ineffective at improving student behavior and school culture but also have negative long-term effects on mental health, graduation rates and preparation for college and careers."

Misbehaving students are often those who struggle the most with academic achievement. Suspending them from their classrooms has the effect of exacerbating the academic problems, Blankenship said. She also wrote that black students and students who have disabilities are punished more frequently and more severely than their classmates for the same behaviors.

"Regardless of whether you have kids, we should all care about how school discipline is used, because it affects the quality of neighborhood schools, community safety and costs to taxpayers," Blankenship wrote, adding that student discipline is also a factor in recruitment and retention of teachers.

The report, issued at a time when the Arkansas General Assembly is in session, is complimentary of legislative Acts 1329 of 2013, a discipline reporting act, and 1059 of 2017 that banned out-of-school expulsions for elementary pupils except in cases of physical risks.

The report offers discipline alternatives, such as the nationally used Positive Behavioral Interventions and Support system, restorative justice in which students can take responsibility and make amends for their actions, community partnerships that provide students with a healthy place to serve their suspension, and the use of calming practices such as yoga and breathing exercises.

Blankenship in the report recommends that the state provide additional resources to the Arkansas Department of Education to better support it and the school systems in complying with the 2013 discipline reporting law -- including reporting on ties between discipline sanctions and academic achievement.

Also proposed is the elimination of corporal punishment in schools, an expanded ban on suspensions to include sixth through eighth grade students, more school counselors, and more high-quality after-school and summer programs for students.

Another recommendation calls for partial use of state aid earmarked for low-income students to support community organizations that provide student mentoring and tutoring.

Still another proposal calls for including student discipline as a measure of school climate in each school's federal Every Student Succeeds Act calculation, which leads to a letter grade of A to F. The report says efforts also should be made to determine reading levels of students who are suspended or expelled, and provide them with dyslexia screening and any needed reading interventions.

The report, which includes 11/2 pages of references to state and national discipline research, is available on the Arkansas Advocates website:

Metro on 02/04/2019

Print Headline: Arkansas schools urged to reconsider punishments


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