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Students call for fewer out-of-school-suspensions in St. Louis

Normandy Superintendent Charles Pearson agreed to a list of principles to reduce suspensions on Saturday, May 23, 2015.
File photo | Camille Phillips | St. Louis Public Radio
Normandy Superintendent Charles Pearson agreed to a list of principles to reduce suspensions on Saturday, May 23, 2015.

High school students with Metropolitan Congregations United are calling for a reduction in out-of-school suspensions in area schools. They presented data and recommendations for change Saturday to a group of about 40 educators and community members.

The group, called Students 4 Change, highlighted  a recent UCLA report, which found that Missouri suspends more African-American grade school students than any other state in the country.  Three St. Louis area schools in particular were singled out in the report: Normandy, Riverview Gardens and St. Louis Public Schools.

Zariah Hicks, 17, is a Central Visual Performing Arts High School student who helped lead a discussion on suspension rates Saturday May, 23, 2015 at Compton Heights Christian Church.
Camille Phillips | St. Louis Public Radio

“The numbers are ridiculous and they should never get that high,” Students 4 Change leader Zariah Hicks said. “We need our students to be in school as much as possible. So we need to figure out what we need to do to help others decrease the suspension rate.”

A St. Louis Public Schools student attending Central Visual Performing Arts High School, the 17-year-old Hicks presented a list of recommended solutions during Saturday’s public meeting that included:

  • Require suspensions be in school unless the students are a danger to people or property.
  • Require administrators to use suspension as a last resort, after other consequences don’t correct behavior.
  •       Don’t suspend a student for uniform violations or being tardy.
  •       Require schools to take circumstances into account when deciding punishment.
  •       Include parents and students when developing discipline polices.
  •       Implement a program that teaches and rewards positive behavior.

Prior to holding the meeting, Students 4 Change contacted the superintendents of Normandy, Riverview Gardens and St. Louis Public Schools and asked to speak with the administrators about suspensions.
Both Charles Pearson of Normandy and Kelvin Adams of St. Louis Public Schools met with the students and explained what measures they are currently implementing to improve the situation. St. Louis Public Radio also has previously reported on their efforts.

Pearson also attended the meeting Saturday and verbally agreed to an “Ask” read aloud by 16-year-old Le’Asia Sanders.

Le'Asia Sanders is a Parkway South student and a member of MCU's Students 4 Change.
Camille Phillips | St. Louis Public Radio

The “Ask”:

  •  Developing district-wide policies that list alternatives to suspensions.
  •  Create a student handbook with clear behavior guidelines and consequences, including levels of intervention that will occur prior to a suspension.
  • Monitor district progress on reducing suspensions, including the number of days of missed instruction.
  • Create a parent newsletter that explains the negative effects of suspensions.

After the meeting Pearson said he agreed with the principles of the recommendations and “Ask.”
“I agreed in principle but I need the list,” he explained. “They talked about needing develop alternatives to out-of-school suspensions. That’s a good principle…They talked about publishing guidelines that students, families, other adults could agree on. That’s good practice.”

“So there was nothing that they offered that was a challenge,” Pearson added. “And all of them we’re on. Reinventing some of them but all of them we’re on.”

In-school-suspension, for instance, was re-implemented in January after Normandy’s teacher shuffle and reduction lapsed the program in the fall.

“One of the things I know we can do better is if OSS (out-of-school suspension) occurs, then work still needs to go with the child and there still needs to be some kind of connection,” Pearson said. “And then the things that I was taking notes of (during the meeting) is what kind of transition process is in place for those children to work their way back into the school, because as one student said if a child leaves that long, ten days or whatever with no work, they come back behind. And if they recognize they’re failing, they’re going to act out again out of frustration.”

Students 4 Change leader Zariah Hicks said that she and her fellow group members have been pleased with their conversations with the superintendents.

“You can really tell that they really care about the future of these students. We just know that there’s always room for improvement,” Zariah said. “We need to see results and we need to make sure that all measures are being taken to get these (suspension) numbers decreased.”

Follow Camille Phillips on Twitter: @cmpcamille.

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