Newspaper article Sarasota Herald Tribune

Expulsion Reforms Should Be Expanded

Newspaper article Sarasota Herald Tribune

Expulsion Reforms Should Be Expanded

Article excerpt

OUR VIEW

The Sarasota County School District has not expelled any students during the school year that ends Friday, and the number of suspensions has dropped dramatically.

The district's policies and practices have changed so significantly that there is room to praise the reforms -- and criticize shortcomings in the not-so-distant past.

As Shelby Webb reported last week, among Florida's 67 school district's, Sarasota County's "expelled the second-highest number of students from 2010 to 2014, kicking more than 350 students out of their regular schools." That number was higher than the combined total of expulsions in 13 districts, including some of the state's largest. (Twenty-five more students were expelled in Sarasota County during 2014-15.) Furthermore, suspension rates were high.

It must be acknowledged that too many students exhibit serious behavioral problems, including those that threaten the safety of other youngsters, teachers and staff. Even non-threatening disruptions cause significant problems, distracting teachers from teaching and students from learning. Drug-related offenses are not uncommon, and the potential for bullying and conflict has been exacerbated by social media channels that enable anti-social behavior.

The school district must be held accountable, but it cannot solve problems alone; community support will be required, and educators must be willing to collaborate on solutions.

The recent changes place Sarasota County's public-school system in closer alignment with other school districts. Yet the positive results underscore the troubling fact that the Sarasota district failed to adequately analyze the collective impacts of expulsions and suspensions.

In an era of budget reductions, programs that offered alternatives to expulsion and out-of-school suspension were eliminated or cut back. Nevertheless, other districts facing financial constraints adapted.

Bottom line: The expectations for Sarasota County's A-rated district, which enjoys additional local funding approved by voters, were not met.

Fortunately, lobbying by community groups, media coverage and greater awareness in the district have led to constructive reforms. …

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