By Alejandra Matos and Emma Brown
D.C. Public Schools has reported a dramatic decline in suspensions at a time when school systems around the country have been under pressure to take a less punitive approach to discipline. But a Washington Post analysis shows that at least seven of the city’s 18 high schools have kicked students out of school for misbehaving without calling it a suspension and in some cases even marked them present.
In the past two years, at least seven high schools sent daily messages to staff listing students who had misbehaved and were not permitted to enter the building, according to emails obtained under the Freedom of Information Act. But attendance records show that only a fraction of those cases were officially recorded as suspensions.
While some students barred from school were marked as present, others were marked as attending an “in-school activity” or absent without an excuse. In at least one case, a suspended student was wrongly marked “unexcused absent” so many times that she was summoned to truancy court, according to her lawyer.
DCPS says suspensions dropped from 11,078 in 2013-2014 to 6,695 in 2015-2016 — a 40 percent reduction.
School officials stand by their numbers and say they’ve increasingly addressed misbehavior with “restorative justice” practices, in which students stay in school and are coached to work through conflicts. Education experts say suspensions do little to resolve problems underlying bad behavior and can lead to alienation, dropping out and, eventually, collision with the juvenile justice system.
But now, some education advocates are questioning whether DCPS has truly reduced suspensions.