School safety and student discipline will always be primary concerns among policy makers, district administrators, principals, teachers, parents, students and school stakeholders.
As the ultimate authority for ensuring school safety and setting standards for student discipline, the Miami-Dade County School Board must effectively balance the choice between “removal” and “restoration” when it comes to addressing students whose behaviors compromise the learning environment and pose a threat to the physical safety and well-being of others, as well as the right of all students to be safe and learn.
Through my experience as a teacher, principal and school superintendent, I had to deal with this balancing act. I have learned that when it comes to removal or restoration one should never nullify the other, and that the rights of other students to be safe and learn reign supreme.
At the beginning of the 2015-2016 school year, the school district took a bold and innovative step in eliminating student suspensions as a part of its Rethink Discipline Initiative. This effort was intended to abate the “school-to-prison pipeline,” which many contend uses suspensions and school-based arrests to push students out of school and into the crimina- justice system. It is also widely known that, on the whole, students of color tend to be disproportionately suspended from school.
In fact, nationally, African-American students are almost four times more likely to get suspended than their white counterparts for similar misbehavior.
While I applaud and support efforts to abate student suspensions, keep them in school and mitigate racial disparities that exist in administering discipline, such efforts must remain cognizant that most students who consistently and persistently disrupt and threaten the learning environment are in crisis. Therefore, the elimination of suspensions alone will prove insufficient in determining root causes for such behaviors.
We must have a deeper understanding of these root causes to develop and provide effective strategies and programs to such students in need.
I have sponsored a bill, Board Item H-7, scheduled to be presented on Feb. 15, to achieve this goal.
Decisions regarding educational policy, practice and programming are serious. They must always be made with consideration for and the engagement of those who ultimately will be affected by the decisions we make.
We must provide a voice for those who toil in schools and classrooms and who, every day, wrestle with the realities that too often disturb teaching and learning. Through their engagement, a review of our current practice of eliminating suspensions and alternative to suspension programs, such as Student Success Centers, will serve to improve our overall policy, approach and effectiveness in addressing and improving student behavior and discipline.
It will also provide an opportunity to improve the working conditions of those who, daily, endeavor to honor their professional and moral obligation to ensure and protect teachers’ ability to teach and students’ desire and right to learn.
Steve Gallon III represents District 1 on the Miami-Dade School Board.