Florida schools are suspending fewer students.
According to Florida Department of Education data, Florida K-12 school suspensions are at a three-year low. During the 2011-2012 school year, more than 425,600 students were suspended. That dropped to fewer than 371,500 students in the 2013-2014 school year.
If students are suspended, they’re out of their classes and aren’t learning, said Sherry Estes, Kanapaha Middle School’s principal. Local schools in Alachua County are working to keep students in the classroom.
“It’s definitely an effort across the state and in Alachua County,” she said.
Local school districts are responsible for their student conduct codes, wrote Florida Department of Education spokesperson Alix Miller in an email.
Per Florida Statute 1006.07, the district also creates parameters for student suspension and expulsion.
Estes said districts and individual schools are implementing positive-behavior support systems, which are cutting the suspension rates.
Rather than solely giving negative consequences when students break the rules, schools will recognize student’s positive actions.
“The idea is to focus on the behaviors you want to see in a positive light,” she said.
For example, if a student picks up trash or holds the door open for someone else, a teacher will recognize the student’s effort, Estes said. And the numbers show that this model may be working: Only 62 students have been suspended so far this year, compared with 106 students suspended during the 2013-2014 school year.
At Hawthorne Middle/High School, students are also rewarded for positive behavior, said the school’s principal, Libby Hartwell.
Well-behaved middle school students can get “Hornet Bucks,” which can be traded in for school supplies and free homework passes, at teachers’ discretion. High school students can earn positive referrals, which are sent home to their parents, she said.
“We focus more on what they’re doing right and what they’re doing well,” she said.
She said that over the past two years, the school has seen its suspensions cut in half. During the 2013-2014 school year, 117 students were suspended. So far this school year, only 66 students have been suspended.
Hartwell said faculty and staff try to encourage students and deal with problems immediately.
“Teachers are really working on building relationships,” she said.
Schools are mindful of why they’re suspending students, too, Estes said.
The district’s code of conduct guides schools in making decisions about severe offenses, like drug or alcohol possession.
The code ensures schools are consistent, she said.
“We try to be fair across the board,” Estes said.
The ultimate goal is to make sure students can be in class and on track to graduate on time, she said.
“We want students in school,” Estes said. “That’s the most important thing to all of us.”