On last Saturday, we joined PEOC in bringing light to a national crisis: pushing our kids out of school by suspending them. It’s not just a national problem. It hurts us here in Paterson, too. In 2010-11, Paterson schools suspended over 4,000 of our children.

The numbers are very troubling. As you see, we suspended many elementary school children as well as high school students. As we work to improve student achievement and increase graduation rates, all these suspensions work against us. When children are not in school, they are not learning. We are increasing the odds that they will drop out.

Worse, when we suspend young children [some as young as kindergarten!] we reduce the opportunity that they will bond with school and focus on their educations.

And with the new regulations proposed about school funding, suspending kids will now cost us money- $16 million is the current estimate.

So what should we do?  For example, every school should have in-school suspension so that kids continue to learn, even when they are being disciplined. Our schools should increase the number of Student Assistance Coordinators to provide counseling and to access  interventions like using the Family Intervention Services or Circle of Care. Many children who are suspended face difficult home situations. Suspension only responds to the immediate behavior and does not address the underlying problem. Give our kids discipline AND support.

The Paterson Public School Board should examine the use of out of school suspensions, set targets for reducing its use and focus on building a positive school culture in every building so the all our children feel valued and supported.

In the memory of Pat Harris,