Interim study looks at school suspensions, alternative discipline

OKLAHOMA CITY - The focus of interim study held Thursday at the Capitol was school discipline and the effects of suspensions.

The study was requested by Sen. Allison Ikley-Freeman, D-Tulsa, stemming from Senate Bill 1435 which would have allowed schools to adopt alternative disciplinary actions. The bill failed to pass during the last session.

"Our current suspension standards are if a child for whatever reason assaults somebody in a classroom and by assaults -- that’s hit, kicks...physical contact -- then what happens is there a mandatory minimum sentence," Sen. Ikley Freeman said. "Much like what you would see in a criminal system, that student is suspended for a semester and then the semester after."

Ikley-Freeman said it's not a one-size-fits-all solution. According to some education and child advocates, it does more harm than good.

"It’s not right that individuals on death row have a greater appeals process than these kids in the schools," said former state representative Joe Dorman.

Dorman, now with the Oklahoma Institute for Child Advocacy, represented one of four agencies and organizations invited to speak at the interim study on Thursday.

Melissa White with the Oklahoma Youth Academy Charter School said students learn how to behave just like they learn how to read and do math.

"They need thorough instruction. They need practice. They need feedback," White said. "I will tell you at Oklahoma youth academy charter school, we do not suspend our students."

According to the Office of Juvenile Affairs, school suspensions have been proven to lead to increased referrals and linked to arrests.

Jackie Shipp, senior director of treatment with the Oklahoma Department of Mental Health and Substance Abuse Services, said there are other options besides suspensions that have been proven to be effective.

"There are interventions that can be offered to the family that are strengthening to the whole family that help the family understand how to better support the child not to act out in school," Shipp said.

Ikley-Freeman said she plans to introduce a bill related to the issue in the upcoming session.