Public schools by convention are conservative institutions. Mandated by State and Federal law, parents are obligated to send their children to school. This mandate in turn provides the educational institution the obligation to foster and maintain an environment that acknowledges a wide range of family and cultural values. School administrators must ensure by policy and process that the moral and academic development of the children they serve is consistent with those values, while simultaneously ensuring their health, safety and welfare. To this end the disciplinary measure of suspension must be an administrative option.
At the classroom level the teachers have as their primary mission the preparing of young people to function as productive members of society. This preparation is relative to a curriculum based on objectives fostered by the NCLB policy and the requirement that students in order to graduate meet specific bench marks with regard to core course work and state exams. Student behavior that detracts from that mission and deprives other students their right to an education, or that endangers others in the school setting, must have limits to its tolerance. The concept of suspension establishes that limit.
State law provides clear guidelines for the suspension process. A student may not be suspended for a period to exceed five days without a Superintendent’s Hearing; only the building principal has the legal authority to suspend; a student facing suspension is entitled to due process which includes written notification of the conduct violation, the opportunity to answer these charges, and to have present a parent or guardian; and a student once suspended may request compensatory instructional time and may not be punished academically. In addition, students by law may not be suspended for arbitrary or capricious reasons, nor can they be suspended solely for truancy, extended absence, or lateness.
A suspension resulting in the removal of a student from the school setting is the strongest message to both the student and the parent or custodian that the student has failed in his responsibility to comply with that institution’s social order, and that to continue to do so may result in the loss of his privilege to attend that school. State law mandates that each child up to the compulsory age of attendance is provided an education. It does not state that a child has to attend a school to receive that education. Any student for due cause may be suspended for up to one full school year as long as the district arranges to provide for and assumes the cost of home instruction during that period of suspension.
To minimize the need to take such extreme action, school boards by policy make every effort to inform both the home and the students of behavioral expectations. Annual district calendars, student agenda books, school web pages, and letters home all include specific reference to expected student behavior, clear violations, and applicable consequences and disciplinary measures. In addition, students with established emotional or learning disabilities which may contribute to impulsive or oppositional behaviors are supported by individual IEPs and CSE processes that determine appropriate placement.
Although suspension from school is not in and of itself an effective deterrent to unacceptable behavior, it is a necessary due process to ensure that school administrators have the authority to act on behalf of their stockholders to protect their right to a safe and positive learning environment.