Nate Robson
Nate Robson

July 22, 2015

Educators from across the nation were at the White House Wednesday to address the overuse of suspensions and expulsions to discipline minority and special education students.

The day-long “Rethink Discipline” conference at the White House brought in administrators and educators from across the nation to talk about ways to cut back on discipline.

The conference comes in the wake of findings in districts like Oklahoma City Public Schools that black students are more likely to be expelled or suspended.

“Creating and sustaining safe, supportive schools is absolutely essential to ensuring students can engage in the rich learning experiences they need for success in college, work and life –that’s why rethinking school discipline is critical to boosting student achievement and improving school outcomes,” said U.S. Secretary of Education Arne Duncan.

At Capitol Hill High School, the average length of a suspension is nearly 12 days, or more than two weeks of missed class time, according to an internal audit Oklahoma Watch obtained in April. Capitol Hill officials also told several parents that re-enrolling their children was a “waste of time” because of the re-enrollment date.

The audit found students were often suspended or expelled for non-violent offenses like skipping school or refusing to obey a teacher.

High suspension rates start as early as elementary school in Oklahoma City.

Superintendent Rob Neu has said that practice is unacceptable and causes students to miss too much class time, negatively affecting their academic performance.

The district is currently working on ways to reduce discipline, including reducing what offenses warrant a suspension or expulsion.

Oklahoma City is not alone in its struggle. Federal data shows districts across the state and nation often punish minority students more than their white peers.

The same trend often appears with special education students.

Oklahoma Watch is currently working on an in-depth look at the overuse of discipline on special education students in the Sooner State, and how that affects students personally and academically.

The White House and U.S. Department of Education highlighted efforts in three districts to curb the overuse of discipline, according to a press release.

Baltimore City Public Schools changed its code of conduct to provide a more rehabilitative approach when disciplining students for misbehavior. The district also requires students to complete schoolwork they missed during short suspensions.

The Los Angeles Unified School District has banned suspensions for willful defiance, which the district found disproportionately affected black students. Those violations included refusing to turn off a cellphone or failing to wear a uniform.

They Syracuse City School District in New York is training staff on alternative approaches to discipline, and has hired an independent monitor to oversee its programs.

Nate Robson can be reached at

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