The Art of OSS (Out-Of-School Suspension)!

By Edward Chisolm (July 8, 2009)


An operant definition for suspension is “a disciplinary action that is administered as a consequence of a student’s inappropriate behavior, requires that a student absent him/herself from the classroom or from the school for a specified period of time.” At the rate that children experience out-of-school suspension (OSS), it comes across as an art form much more than a science. Science is based on logic and reason.

I am told that the goal of suspension is to deter “negative behav­ior.” By negative behavior I mean the very behavior that disrupts the educational process and causes the child to be put out of school in the first place. I am also told that the goal of public edu­cation, among other things, is to prepare an individual to participate in the demo­cratic process; an avenue by which one can become educated, build a career and enjoy a descent quality of life in America. When you put this up against the rate at which we suspend stu­dents, it makes one wonder.

Okay, I will make it per­sonal.  It makes me wonder. It makes me wonder does OSS: improve test scores?; improve the quality of in­struction?; increase school attendance?; deter other stu­dents from negative be­havior?; make learning any better?  I am just wonder­ing out loud.  Because of the rate of suspensions, this deterrent thing doesn’t seem to be working all that well. The logic of it all seems questionable, at best.

If suspensions, particularly at high rates, are not deter­ring negative behavior, why on God’s green earth are we suspending at even higher rates. Since the 2004-2005 school year, there have been consistent increases in the total number of stu­dents suspended among 9th graders. There were 1,424 (32.6%) 9th grade students (Asian, Black, Hispanic & White) suspended out-of-school during the 2006-­2007 school year, consti­tuting the highest number observed over the past five years.  The system-wide total of 9th grade students being suspended in 2006­-2007 was 1,444 students. Of this number, 1,239 were black, 160 were white, 5 were Asian and 20 were Hispanic.  Now, I am not that good at math but it would seem that black 9th grade students accounted for 85% of the total num­ber of students suspended out-of-school. I don’t know how you feel about it, or how the leadership within the school system feels about it, but these high numbers are unacceptable. Not just because they are black stu­dents (which should be a concern for the black community), but because every child deserves a qual­ity education.

We concur that when students are not in school they cannot learn. A quality education is the meal ticket out for all stu­dents, but especially African-American students. There is a direct correlation be­tween educational attain­ment and class status in America. Those individuals with higher educational at­tainment occupy the middle and upper middle class rungs of society. Those with lesser education occupy the lower class and working poor. That’s just how it is. The point is—to all students, but particularly for African-American students, you need to get your education to have a reasonable shot at having a descent quality of life; where education, all else being equal, is re­warded. This being said, this scenario is why some believe that there is a con­spiracy to under-educate scores of black students because this will ensure that blacks maintain a sub­servient position in a white, male dominant society. This white hegemony speaks to the notion that in the social strata in America, whites must remain on top, people of color on the bottom. The bottom is where the less educated, the underedu­cated, and the miseducated are located.

Out-of-school suspensions have to be an art imitating life, because science dictates logic, and there is no logic as to why a caring, supporting school system would suspend so many of its own students. It is also illogical why a community would sit back with tongue-in-cheek and do nothing about it. I will not buy into the conspiracy theorist notion that the “sys­tem” is racist to the point of purposefully trying to deny minority students a quality education. Studies have shown that OSS is often misapplied, unfairly used against minorities, and ineffective at producing bet­ter future behavior (Skiba, Peterson & Williams 1997; Verdugo 2002).  Although the use of suspension is an accepted practice by both educators and researchers, its application is often prob­lematic and controversial. According to the numbers we see locally, this assess­ment may have some valid­ity. It’s enough to make us ask the question, “Should we suspend out-of-school sus­pension?”

Trust me. I believe it’s a privilege to receive an education. It’s also the law! By law, we are commanded to educate all children. However, for the safety and well-being of the teach­ers, administrators, and other students, certain students need to be removed from the learning environment. We can’t allow the learning process to be interrupted or disrupted and deny other students their constitutional right. That being said, chil­dren who are suspended the most are often from popula­tions that are least likely to have supervision at home.

According to the 2004 U.S. census, children growing up in homes near or below the poverty level are more likely to be expelled. Chil­dren with single parents are between 2 and 4 times as likely to be suspended or expelled from school as are children with both parents at home. Students with OSS and expulsions are far more likely to commit crimes.

This doesn’t make it right.  It just makes it explainable. In Luke 4:18 Jesus stated that he was sent to “proclaim liberty to the captives.” So many students are held captive and deserve to be set free. I do agree that, in some instances, a child may need to be away from the learning environment—to be “punished” for breaking the rules; for parents to take the situation seriously; and to give the student and teachers “breathing” space.  But it would appear that, with cer­tain populations of students, we have suspended so much and so often that we have made it an art form.  And a bad art form at that.

Black Love, Black Peace & Black Power!!!