New America Media, Question & Answer, Nicole Hudley
Ed. Note: Data shows that one in 9 students are suspended nationally, with racial disparities widening. The Central Valley city of Fresno, CA. is among districts seeking to reverse this trend. Under a zero-tolerance school discipline policy, the district has long seen high numbers of both suspensions and expulsions. But in a major reversal last week, Superintendent Michael Hanson announced that he would begin funding district-wide restorative justice programs. Jane Stevens is founder and editor of ACES Too High, which focuses on adverse childhood experiences (ACE). Stevens, a journalist who has long covered school discipline practices in Fresno, spoke with New America Media about decision.
New America Media: Given the recent focus on approaches to reducing suspensions, why are suspension rates a problem for California?
Jane Stevens: Suspension rates for California schools are just way too high. If you look at the data you’ll see – some schools had more suspensions than they had students.
NAM: What are some of issues that might lead to a student being suspended and how can things be done differently?
Stevens: Little triggers, depending on what’s happening in a kid’s life — say a teacher yelling — can just set the kid off. Or a loud noise can set a kid off who is living in a neighborhood where there is a lot of gun violence.
A kid in San Francisco had to spend the night at a hotel because there’s gun violence outside of the home. That’s pretty freaky for a young kid and anything might set that kid off. So when they come to school the next morning, we say, let’s just give this kid a big long time out and let them go into the “peace corner” with a cozy bean bag and just listen to soothing music for a while, or they can pop bubble wrap, or massage their hands with lotion, or do breathing exercises. These tools [allow students] to recognize when they are becoming like a volcano and they can begin self-regulation before things get out of hand.
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