School board members agree that Charlotte-Mecklenburg Schools’ practice of suspending hundreds of 4- to 8-year-olds every year is troubling.
But they disagree on whether they should deny principals the option of suspending their youngest students. After almost two years of debating that question, the board’s policy panel stopped short of endorsing a moratorium on out-of-school suspension for prekindergarten through second-grade students.
Instead, the panel settled for a vague one-sentence policy change that passes the challenge to the new superintendent. The change will come up for its first public hearing on July 25 and another hearing and vote are planned for Aug. 8.
If it passes, the amendment would give the superintendent’s support to principals in avoiding suspending students in favor of alternative programs, but out-of-school suspension is still on the table. Alternative programs could be in-school suspension, other education locations and community service.
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Tom Tate, the chairman of the school board’s policy committee, said out-of-school suspensions can have long-term negative impacts. Students who go through an out-of-school suspension at a young age are more likely to not do as well in school and struggle in adulthood.
While the policy focuses on pre-kindergarten through second grade, it would apply to all CMS students in aiming to reduce out-of-school suspensions.
“Most of us don’t think there is a reason a child of that age should be in (out-of-school suspension),” said Tate, referring to the pre-kindergarten through second-grade students.
With about 900 to 1,100 pre-K to second-graders suspended each year, the board was looking to reduce this number and correct the behavior earlier in the students’ lives. After talking with a colleague at a Seattle school system with a moratorium on suspensions for pre-kindergatern to fifth grade, school board member Ericka Ellis-Stewart suggested a similar policy at CMS but through second grade.
“It allows you to be more intentional,” Ellis-Stewart said.
But Tate said ultimately the policy committee decided not to pursue a moratorium and focused on alternative programs instead. He said out-of-school suspensions are still needed for students who consistently disrupt and upset classrooms.
“We really don’t want kids out of school, but it may be necessary,” Tate said.
Ellis-Stewart said she worries these are just words on paper.
“I have not yet decided to support that language,” she said. She said she felt a moratorium would have more impact on improving student behavior and she wanted to see more tangible goals in the policy, such as a period of time to see a certain amount of change.
Jamie Gwaltney: 704-358-5612, @jamielgwaltney