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Number of student suspensions on the rise: Stats

Graphs are based on yearly suspension data provided by the Brandon School Division.

GRANT HAMILTON / BRANDON SUN Enlarge Image

Graphs are based on yearly suspension data provided by the Brandon School Division.

Brandon School Division is handing out more suspensions than in previous years.

Graphs are based on yearly suspension data provided by the Brandon School Division.

Enlarge Image

Graphs are based on yearly suspension data provided by the Brandon School Division. (GRANT HAMILTON / BRANDON SUN)

Graphs are based on yearly suspension data provided by the Brandon School Division.

Enlarge Image

Graphs are based on yearly suspension data provided by the Brandon School Division. (GRANT HAMILTON / BRANDON SUN)

Graphs are based on yearly suspension data provided by the Brandon School Division.

Enlarge Image

Graphs are based on yearly suspension data provided by the Brandon School Division. (GRANT HAMILTON / BRANDON SUN)

Graphs are based on yearly suspension data provided by the Brandon School Division.

Enlarge Image

Graphs are based on yearly suspension data provided by the Brandon School Division. (GRANT HAMILTON / BRANDON SUN)

For the 2012-13 school year, 327 students from kindergarten to Grade 12 were suspended, about 95 per cent of which from the three high schools — École secondaire Neelin High School, Vincent Massey and Crocus Plains Regional Secondary School. That’s a bit of a jump from last year, when there were 256 suspensions, but similar to 2008-09 when there were 325.

The division keeps track of school suspensions and that information is relayed to school board trustees during their regular board meetings.

At their last board meeting of 2013, trustees learned 15 students from Crocus Plains, three from Vincent Massey and one student from Valleyview School were suspended. That information, collected over a two-week period, stated the reasons for the suspensions were assaultive behaviour, cyberbullying as well as possession of a weapon or drugs or alcohol.

With more than 8,000 students within the division, Supt. Donna Michaels said every suspension is a cause for concern.

"It’s a statement that the student is in trouble," Michaels said. "We work hard to keep the numbers down, but there’s some things we can’t control.

"It could be what I call high level nonsense where it won’t ever occur again or it could be a symptom of something deeper."

According to BSD’s student conduct policy, unacceptable behaviour, vandalism, violent activity, bullying and cyberbullying as well as gang or group related activity are grounds for a suspension. More serious offences involve a student bringing a weapon or drugs or alcohol to school, which in some cases could lead to expulsion.

One of the more serious incidents Michaels recalled occurred last year when a student brought "a very dangerous weapon" to school. That student was handed a 30-day suspension.

When a student has violated the divisional policy, it’s up to the school’s principal to consider the severity of the incident and determine whether it merits a three-day or up to 30-day suspension from school. Suspensions longer than five days are made in consultation with the superintendent.

In exceptional circumstances, a violation could result in a suspension of less than three days or in some cases an in-school suspension.

"Sometimes there’s nothing to send them home to so we’re going to keep an eye on them ... we’re going to provide extra support," Michaels said.

Crocus, being Brandon’s largest high school with 1,175 students, gives out the brunt of school suspensions.

"There’s more suspensions than what we would like," Crocus principal Mathew Gustafson admits. "Suspensions are not something that we enjoy."

The start of a new school year is usually the worse time for suspensions, but the majority of students are suspended for a short period of time, Gustafson said.

For the 2012-13 school year, 202 Crocus students were handed suspensions for a variety of reasons including 53 for assault, 66 for drugs or alcohol possession and 83 for unacceptable behaviour. The majority — 133 to be exact — were given four- to six-day suspensions while 52 students received three-day suspensions and the rest ranged from seven to 30 days.

Last year, 152 students were suspended compared to 186 in 2010-11, 148 in 2009-10 and 118 in 2008-09.

Michaels said suspensions are dependent on a number of factors but are always in relation to a student’s choice. Other factors may include a student’s sense of well-being, belonging and commitment to being in school and their home life.

"If the home life is really dysfunctional ... no meals ever cooked, cleanliness is a problem ... that overwhelms kids," she said. "Kids in my opinion don’t set out to be bad but there are many, many factors that press on them."

Gustafson, who has been principal at Crocus for about four months, said his staff’s focus this year is creating a "good school climate" with an emphasis on safety and security.

Installing automatic door locking systems at the beginning of the school year in all three high schools has amped up security, he said.

Exterior doors at all three high schools are now controlled by a central console in each school’s administration office.

Gustafson said students have been co-operating with the new system and it helps deter people from coming in "that don’t belong."

Crocus, much like other schools in Brandon, has a diverse student population, but Gustafson doesn’t believe it fuels student suspensions.

"The diversity in our community is reflected in the schools," he said. "There can sometimes be other factors that come in and contribute."

Drugs, alcohol and signs of gang activity on school grounds are monitored very closely he said, adding these are problems they’ve dealt with in the past and will likely continue to in the future.

"We do know that Brandon is similar to other communities where a number of our youth will experiment or use alcohol and drugs," he said. "Information indicates that the experimentation is occurring earlier now than what it might have been 10 years or more ago."

Under Bill 18, the Safe and Inclusive Schools Act, school administrators are also responsible for protecting students from cyberbullying. Social media platforms provide more ways for students to communicate with one another and sometimes it’s in an inappropriate manner, Gustafson said.

"With the new legislation, we do have to take that seriously," he said. "Part of it is educating students on how to make good choices."

When it comes to preventing school suspensions, Michaels said it’s important students are made aware of the division’s student code of conduct. The 15-page document is summarized in their yearly student handbooks, she added. It’s also important school administration and staff monitor student behaviour, which includes watching for signs a student may be struggling or is not conducting themselves properly.

"I’ve seen kids in high school as principal go from being the most normal, solid kid within a week to the point of intense drug abuse," Michaels said.

Working closely with parents or guardians is also important to preventing suspensions.

Crocus staff are now focused on making more of an effort to have a presence on school grounds when students aren’t in class, Gustafson said. The school also provides supports for students to help them make better choices.

Positive teacher and student relationships are key moving forward, Gustafson said.

"Every student should at least have one adult that they have a strong relationship with in the building, someone they can talk to."

» lenns@brandonsun.com

Republished from the Brandon Sun print edition December 30, 2013

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Brandon School Division is handing out more suspensions than in previous years.

For the 2012-13 school year, 327 students from kindergarten to Grade 12 were suspended, about 95 per cent of which from the three high schools — École secondaire Neelin High School, Vincent Massey and Crocus Plains Regional Secondary School. That’s a bit of a jump from last year, when there were 256 suspensions, but similar to 2008-09 when there were 325.

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Brandon School Division is handing out more suspensions than in previous years.

For the 2012-13 school year, 327 students from kindergarten to Grade 12 were suspended, about 95 per cent of which from the three high schools — École secondaire Neelin High School, Vincent Massey and Crocus Plains Regional Secondary School. That’s a bit of a jump from last year, when there were 256 suspensions, but similar to 2008-09 when there were 325.

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