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St. Louis Public Schools to ban suspensions for youngest students

St. Louis Public Schools to ban suspensions for youngest students

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140313 LS SLPS B-20684931

As part his budget presentation, Superintendent of St. Louis Public Schools Dr. Kelvin Adams proposes that low-performing schools could partner-up with non-profit operators by the 2015-16 school year to improve their underachievement during a Special Administrative Board meeting Thursday, March 13, 2014, at the Board of Education Building. The proposal is one piece of Adams' new plan to address chronic failure at some schools - 18 of when he began directly overseeing last fall. And it will no doubt anger some city residents who believe that Adams and the Special Administrative Board are working to dismantle the school district. Photo by Laurie Skrivan, lskrivan@post-dispatch.com

ST. LOUIS • Starting next school year, children in preschool through second grade in St. Louis Public Schools will no longer receive out-of-school suspension for acting out, but instead will learn about classroom expectations and receive counseling. And students with drug infractions at all grade levels will receive treatment as an option, rather than automatic punishment.

The changes approved by the Special Administrative Board on Tuesday mark a significant shift in discipline policy in the city school district, which was suspending nearly 30 percent of its elementary school population just three years ago.

“We just think it’s the right thing to do,” Superintendent Kelvin Adams said. “What we’re trying to do is not say that our kids are bad, but that our kids need support.”

The district will be pouring more resources toward social workers and counselors throughout the system to help students with whatever problems they may have, thanks to the passage of Proposition 1. Teachers will receive training throughout the year in student trauma to more proactively address certain behaviors.

“We know to do this we need to provide ongoing professional development,” said Stacy Clay, a deputy superintendent. “It is a bit of a shift, but we believe it is an important one.”

The district is the first in the St. Louis area to take this kind of stand after a report by the University of California, Los Angeles, last spring showed that black elementary school children were more likely to be suspended in Missouri than in any state in the nation. It called out St. Louis Public Schools as a top suspender. So far this year, city schools have issued 475 out-of-school suspensions to children in second grade or younger.

Since Adams became superintendent in 2008, the out-of-school suspension rate is down by more than half, partly because disruptive older students have been sent instead to alternative schools and online education programs.

This year a therapeutic school is helping 50 children in the elementary grades work through behavioral challenges. Area health partners next year will help provide drug treatment for students as an alternative to punishment for drug infractions.

“We’re trying to keep more of them in so we can work with them, so we can address issues with these children rather than sending them out,” said Richard Gaines, a member of the SAB.

And by eliminating out-of-school suspension as an option for the youngest of students, Adams said he hopes to stop what many refer to as the “school-to-prison pipeline.”

Some experts say a troublesome cycle begins when a child is suspended in the early grades. They often return to school with the same behaviors. And future teachers expect bad behavior, leading to a self-fulfilling prophecy.

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Elisa Crouch is a reporter for the St. Louis Post-Dispatch.

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