By Evette D. Champion
Annually, approximately 3 million students, most of whom are in high school, receive out-of-school suspensions. However, more and more children in preschool or kindergarten are being sent home as punishment for infractions that would make you raise your eyebrows.
In a PBS NewsHour Special, John Merrow discusses suspensions within the Success Charter School Network in New York City, which started in 2006 and now consists of 34 schools, most of which are elementary schools. The network employs the “no excuses” model of educating, which means that teachers are held responsible for students doing well in school. The network refuses to accept excuses why a student does not do well—not hunger, sickness, or even violence within the home.
At Success Academy Prospect Heights, students have a list of 65 infractions that they must not commit. These infractions range from serious offenses like bullying and down to something as simple as “failing to be in a ready-for-success position,” whatever that means. Students are also not allowed to get out of their seats unless they have permission, nor can they call out an answer without raising their hand. All of these offenses can quickly lead to suspension.
In 2014, Success Academy Prospect Heights had 203 kindergarteners and first graders, and within that year, Monica Komery, the principal, issued 44 suspensions to only 11 students. Merrow revealed that 12 of those suspensions were given to one child before his family took him out of the school. At another Success school, 32 students accumulated 101 suspensions total. According to Merrow, the charter school’s suspension rate is three times as high as the public schools throughout New York City.
The principal was quoted to have said: “We do have a zero-tolerance policy around certain behaviors, but I don’t suspend children as a first course of action. It’s well thought out.”
Merrow sat down with Eva Moskowitz, the founder and director of the charter network. She said that by using the strict out-of-school suspension policy, she is preparing them for life. Moskowitz believes that “if you get it right in the early years, you actually have to suspend far less when the kids are older, because they understand what is expected of them.”
Parents, former employees, and critics believe that Success Academy uses suspensions as a way of driving out the students who are deemed difficult or who have the potential of doing poorly on standardized testing, which would bring down the school’s and network’s testing averages, although Moskowitz denies the allegations. Interestingly enough, for every 100 students that are admitted into the program, 10 leave within the first few months.
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