School Suspensions Down, Conflict-Resolution Up

As a parent of schoolchildren, I share the fear that many mothers have (whether we admit it or not): will my child ever be suspended/kicked-out of school? With all the “zero-tolerance” policies put in place years ago, it doesn’t seem to take much to get suspended or expelled. And, I admit–I always wondered if there was a better way to handle misbehavior in school.

Turns out, I’m not alone. The Associated Press just came out with a really interesting article outlining how some schools are limiting suspensions and encouraging conflict-resolution instead.

And, it’s working.

Eldridge Greer, a conflict-resolution advocate featured in the article, told author Jamie Stengle “Before the change, students involved in incidents like shouting matches would receive out-of-school suspensions, but nothing would be done to address their behavior. Now, such students might meet with a school official instead to discuss the reasons for the spat and to try to address them.”

And, it seems to be working. According to the article, the school year before the policy changes began taking effect, there were about 11,500 out-of-school suspensions and 167 expulsions. Last school year, those figures were down significantly, to about 5,400 suspensions and 55 expulsions.

Even the Obama Administration is on-board with decriminalizing misbehavior. According to Stengle, last year, the Obama administration asked schools to abandon policies that send kids to court, issuing guidelines encouraging training school personnel in conflict resolution.

Will conflict-resolution work in ALL cases involving students at school? Maybe, maybe-not. But, by encouraging students to talk about the issue-at-hand instead of punishing them outright, teachers and administrators are modeling healthy conflict-resolution that will only help the students as they grow-up.

In the end, by focusing on dialogue, it seems the schools are enjoying the success they’d hoped to achieve through suspensions and expulsions.

Most importantly, the policy prevents schools from making bad judgement calls. Conflict resolution advocate Michael Gilbert told Stengle, “When we can’t tell the difference between a serious problem and a non-serious problem with a kid in school, the problem is not the kid: It is us.”


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