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Out-of-School Suspensions, Expulsions Denounced by Pediatricians

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Schools are too quick to suspend students out of school or expel them and need to take a hard look at these "drastic" and "superficial" policies, the American Academy of Pediatrics said this week, building on a previous position published six years ago questioning zero-tolerance school discipline policies.

The newest statement also outlines ways pediatricians can help identify and intervene if children have behavior problems and instructs children's doctors to advocate for school discipline policies that focus on prevention strategies and alternatives to out-of-school suspension and expulsion.

AAP's call for a shift in school discipline policies is the latest action in a movement to change how students are disciplined in school. While suspension and expulsion have some supporters—and even those who oppose the measures say, in some cases, they are necessary—these policies have been under fire in recent years because of the way they disproportionately affect some groups of students and their effect on whether students drop out of high school.

High school dropouts, the academy notes, have worse health than people who graduate and they live shorter lives.

The 60,000-member academy says that discipline policies that eject students from school have been shown not to improve school safety but the effect on students who are removed from school can be profound. To prevent behavior problems from arising and reduce the use of suspension and expulsion, the group recommends:

  • early-intervention programs for preschool children,

  • early identification of children at risk for school difficulties and intensive intervention before problem behaviors occur, and

  • annual implementation of clearly articulated and carefully taught age-appropriate codes of conduct with stated alternatives and supports for students to use before they engage in inappropriate behaviors, such as schoolwide positive behavioral interventions and supports.

In 2006, the academy also questioned the use of suspension and expulsion as punishment by schools. That policy statement emphasized doctors' roles in addressing students' behavior, too, and said that these practices should only be used in the most severe cases of student misbehavior, as they were originally intended.

Instead of being reserved for cases when students fight with classmates or bring weapons or drugs to school, however, students across the country are being suspended and expelled for lower-level offenses, such as insubordination.

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