Limiting Student Suspensions Could Lead to Unintended Consequences

Education Minister Nello Altomare wants to reduce the number of students being suspended from school. To achieve this goal, his department released a new policy directive that urges school administrators […]
Published on April 27, 2024

Education Minister Nello Altomare wants to reduce the number of students being suspended from school. To achieve this goal, his department released a new policy directive that urges school administrators to use alternative measures when dealing with student misconduct.

Some of these alternatives include behaviour contracts, flexible learning schedules, counselling, and in-school community service. These are all considered preferable to out-of-school suspensions.

Obviously, no one wants to see students suspended unnecessarily. Students should be in class as much as possible and if we can correct their misbehaviour without removing them from school, we should do so.

However, it’s important that the pendulum does not swing too far in the other direction. While the minister’s policy directive acknowledges that immediate safety concerns might necessitate a suspension, there are plenty of other circumstances where student suspensions are warranted. Continuing with their existing practices could put many school principals in conflict with the province.

For example, some school boards currently impose automatic out-of-school suspensions on students who bring illicit drugs to school, smoke or vape in school buildings, or vandalize school property. One could argue that since there is no immediate safety risk, students who engage in these activities should not be suspended. This line of reasoning would be consistent with the Manitoba government’s latest policy directive.

Of course, this ignores the fact that suspending students for damaging school property or for engaging in prohibited activities such as smoking or vaping is both prudent and necessary. That’s because school administrators are responsible for ensuring that the overall environment of their schools is conducive to learning.

Simply put, school administrators must do what is in the best interests of all the students in their buildings. Minister Altomare’s policy directive fails to acknowledge the impact that the ongoing presence of students in school who regularly break the rules and endanger the welfare of other students has on the wellbeing of everyone else in the building.

Consider, for example, how problematic it would be if a middle school principal could not suspend a student who repeatedly vaped in the school bathroom during breaks. Not only would the other students feel unsafe using the bathroom, but the offender would feel emboldened to continue breaking the rules.

Keep in mind that most principals already consider out-of-school suspensions to be a last resort. Schools were using alternative measures such as counselling, in-school community service, and behaviour contracts long before the education minister issued this latest policy directive.

To make matters worse, Minister Altomare’s policy directive explicitly states that “Suspension duration must not incrementally increase based on the number of suspensions a student has previously received.”

In other words, school administrators cannot give a longer suspension to students for their fifth offence than they got for their first offence. This is patently absurd, since everyone knows that there is a huge difference between breaking a rule for the first time and breaking a rule for the fifth time.

The Manitoba government might think it is acting in the best interests of students, but limiting student suspensions will make it harder for principals and teachers to keep schools safe for everyone.

This is a time when political ideology should give way to practical reality. We must do what is best for students, not what is best for education bureaucrats.

 

Michael Zwaagstra is a public high school teacher and a Senior Fellow with the Frontier Centre for Public Policy.

 

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