Suspensions rate falls but one in five don’t feel safe
By Richard Leitner, News Staff
A jump in expulsions bucked an otherwise positive trend that saw student suspensions at Hamilton public schools continue their decline last year – although the latter still remain above the provincial average.
The latest annual Positive School Climate Report also suggests bullying remains a problem despite efforts to combat it, with one in five students surveyed indicating they didn’t feel safe in school most of the time.
When it came to meting out discipline in the 2012-13 school year, the 38 expulsions were more than double the 18 in the previous year, albeit more in line with totals between 2008 and 2010, when they ranged from 37 to 46.
More common transgressions once again included weapon possession, serious assaults and drug trafficking.
Less serious offenses saw about one in 20 students suspended in 2012-13, with the overall number falling by nearly 10 per cent from the year before, to 4,024, according to the report, presented to trustees at an information session.
That continues the steady decline from a peak of 7,880 suspensions for the 2006-07 school year, when there were also 79 expulsions.
The drop mirrors a provincial trend and partly reflects a change in approach from the zero-tolerance era to one that allows for progressive discipline to help students correct their behaviour and stay in class.
Despite the progress, Pam Reinholdt, executive superintendent of student achievement, acknowledged the board’s suspension rate remains above the Ontario average.
While figures weren’t included in the board’s report, the most recent data posted online by the Ministry of Education show a provincial average of 3.6 per cent of students being suspended in 2011-12.
By contrast, 5.6 per cent of students at the Hamilton public board were kicked out of class that year – about one and a half times the average. Last year’s board rate was 5.1 per cent.
The 18 expulsions for 2011-12 were already about 25 per cent higher than the provincial average and, if the trend holds, will be double the mark for 2012-13.
As they did last year, some trustees took issue with the lack of detail on the reasons for the vast majority of suspensions.
The catch-all category of “other board-set infraction” accounted for 3,320 suspensions – more than 80 per cent – with the next biggest reasons on a list of 14 transgressions being swearing at 242, possession of drugs or alcohol at 107 and bullying at 100.
Reinholdt said she expects next year’s report to provide a better breakdown on the “other” infractions, which can include seriously disrespectful behaviour or even some criminal actions that don’t have a designated category.
“I would say mostly it’s behaviours that are in violation of the code of conduct that are so serious that they require a suspension as opposed to a correction, or we’ve tried correction and it hasn’t worked, so we’ve moved it to the next level,” she said.
The 2012-13 report includes the results of the annual student survey on the “school climate,” or safety level, one that paints a mixed picture.
While three-quarters of student respondents indicated they feel a responsibility to help stop buying, one in five students were its victims and said they didn’t feel safe in their school most of the time.
Bullying usually occurred in less supervised areas like hallways and playgrounds, and most often involved insults, with the victim’s appearance the biggest target. Other leading reasons included grades or marks, and use of drugs and alcohol.
Only about 57 per cent of high schoolers and 68 per cent of elementary students said there was a caring adult in their school, although more than three-quarters said there was extra help available if they needed it.