Suspension rates on the rise in Virginia

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RICHMOND, Va. (WRIC) — Suspension rates in Virginia schools rose during the 2015-16 school year, especially among elementary school students, students with disabilities and students of color.

According to a report from the Legal Aid Justice Center, over 131,500 out-of-school suspensions were distributed among 70,000 students, which is an increase after rates dropped over the past four years.

Locally, the report finds Richmond Public Schools ranks second in the state for suspending students with disabilities. It also finds students with disabilities across Virginia are roughly three times more likely to be suspended than non-disabled students.

Additionally, the report suggests black students throughout the Commonwealth are roughly four times more likely to be suspended than white and Hispanic students.

“Exclusionary discipline is myopic and harmful-we cannot continue to use access to education as a punishment for student conduct and expect positive results from either students or schools,” said Amy Woolard, Legal Aid Justice Center attorney and author of the report. “When children are suspended from school, they are more likely to experience academic failure, drop out of school, have substance abuse issues, have mental health needs, and become involved in the justice system.”

The highest recurring offenses were possession of cell phones, disrespect, minor insubordination and using inappropriate language. The report offers alternative penalties to removing students from schools.

The report offers Virginia policymakers and local school boards solutions to help reverse the trend.

“Alternatives to exclusion like restorative practices emphasize accountability while strengthening students’ relationship to their education, their teachers and administrators, and their peers,” Woolard said in the release.

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