Time for a Moratorium on School Suspensions?

A sociologist has urged the NAACP to push for this change to school discipline policy.

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(The Root) -- A sociologist presenting at a strategy session at the NAACP Leadership 500 Summit in Naples, Fla., on Friday proposed a radical change to school discipline policies that she said would improve educational outcomes, in particular for black and Latino children, who are subjected to disproportionately harsh punishments.

"We need to look at a national moratorium on school suspension," Kasandra A. Pontojo, professor of sociology at New Jersey's Hudson Community College and former chief operation officer at YouthBuild Newark, told the attendees of the conference's strategy session on education. "If a child is out of class, how do you expect them to learn?"

Pontojo's recommendation was based on what she said was suspension's role among the "push-out" (versus "pull-out") factors that lead students to drop out of school. "The push-out are internal factors that have led students not to be fully engaged with [the] learning process, whether it's because they feel classes are boring, teachers aren't interested or they're afraid to be in the school, " Pontojo explained. "The pull-out factors are those external factors -- family demands, pregnancy and the need to generate income, for example. What we're realizing now is that we're dealing with predominantly push-out issues versus pulling-out issues."

Suspension, she said, is in the latter group because "we know students who have experienced three or more days of suspension are more likely to drop out."

Pontojo disagreed with the idea that students who misbehave must be suspended so as not to interfere with their classmates' education. "We need to look at a more support-based form of education, training teachers to use different forms of discipline and different forms of encouragement. We need to teach them what you can do to [avoid suspensions but] make sure learning still occurs for the rest of the students in the classroom," she said.

A national moratorium, she told The Root, "is a national movement that the NAACP should be aligning itself with."

The NAACP's Leadership 500 summit's strategy sessions are designed to yield recommendations related to the organization's national agenda, which are reviewed by the organization's board of directors at its annual national conference.

Jenée Desmond-Harris is The Root's staff writer. Follow her on Twitter.

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