Charlotte-Mecklenburg Schools suspended nearly 1,000 students last year – in just pre-kindergarten through second grade.
School board member Ericka Ellis-Stewart wants to change that and is pushing for a moratorium on suspensions in those grades. On Wednesday, the school board’s policy committee indicated they want some change.
“This is a broad conversation I wanted us to start here,” Ellis-Stewart said.
She said suspending kids in general is not productive because it removes kids from the classroom and does little to improve long-term behavior. And suspension at an early age can label a student as trouble for the rest of their academic career, she said.
But some worry that removing suspensions as an option would make it harder for teachers to control their classrooms.
School board member Ruby Jones said she has been contacted by teachers who are tired of constantly dealing with disruptive children. She said it can hurt teacher retention.
“I think we need to be careful when we talk policy and then a moratorium because it will dictate an action that will reverberate to the school that says, ‘We can’t suspend, but what do we do with these students?’” Jones said.
But committee members overall acknowledged the need for changing the suspension policy, agreeing that it does little to address long-term problems.
Improving communication with parents and enhancing mental health resources were mentioned as other ways to decrease the suspension rate.
“Make it quality, make it excellence,” Jones said.
George Metz Jr., an adjudicated youth re-entry coordinator for Communities in Schools who attended the meeting, said many of the kids he works with are behind academically because of suspensions.
“I have never met a kid leaving prison that was not suspended at least once,” he said.
The committee is asking for more data on how suspension affects students’ lives and to what degree minority students disproportionately face this form of punishment.
A student on the board
The committee also talked about placing a student on the Board of Education. GenerationNation, a Charlotte nonprofit that promotes student leadership, wants to do that to help the board.
“We have a lot of students interested in policy and politics,” said Superintendent Ann Clark.
While allowing a student as a non-voting member could be done internally by the board, giving the student a vote would require an amendment to the North Carolina constitution.
“I am not sure that in this moment in time I am in favor of tackling the issue of changing the North Carolina constitution,” board member Paul Bailey said.
The committee concluded with a discussion on expanding board members’ abilities to attend meetings remotely.
Currently, board members may participate in discussion via telephone, but are not allowed to vote. While no decision was made, the board seemed to agree that for business meetings it is best for that policy to remain in place.
Tyler Fleming: 704-358-5355, @tyler_fleming96