South Florida school leaders traveled to Washington Wednesday to share ideas on how to reduce on-campus arrests and suspensions.
Superintendents from Broward County and Miami-Dade County shared how their districts dealt with the problem at a summit hosted by the White House.
Research shows that students who are suspended before ninth grade are less likely to graduate. And on-campus arrests can stick with a student for life, hindering chances at a college education or finding a job.
Broward County schools superintendent Robert Runcie said his district led the state in the rate of arrests and suspensions when he took control in 2011. Minority students were arrested and suspended at disproportionate rates.
“Our goal can’t be to have students go into the courtroom,” Runcie said. “Our focus has got to be keep them in the classroom and out of the courtroom.”
The district started a new program to try to change student behavior and avoid arrests and suspensions. More than 2,000 students went through the program its first year and more than 90 percent did not commit a second offense.
School leaders at the summit said teaching the adults in students’ lives how to step in and address issues is important. That includes parents, teachers, neighbors and community leaders.
One school leader at the summit said that at one school, the majority of suspensions were issued by one teacher. The district taught the teacher about other ways to change student behavior and reduced suspensions.
School leaders around the country also said it’s important to help adults understand what kids are going through, such as dealing with gangs or violence at home.
Keeping students in school is important, school leaders said, because suspended students will often find each other outside of school and could commit crimes or get in other trouble. The less class time students miss, the more likely it is they can keep up with school work.
A third focus, Runcie and others said, should be teaching students how to cope with conflicts and issues they’ll face in school so that the behavior of the whole school improves over time.
“What happens to children in the district is a function of the values and beliefs of the leaders in that school system, starting with the superintendent," Runcie said.
“This is really about how to provide the right type of interventions and support.”