Major suspensions assessed to local students hit a four-year low during the 2013-14 school term.
A total of 30 suspensions of four or five days were handed out during the strike-shortened session, continuing a downward trend from a high of 42 in 2010-11, according to statistics provided by the Okanagan Skaha School District in response to a freedom of information request.
“It would have been even lower this year except we had one incident early in the year that involved multiple students in the same situation, and so we reported them all separately but it was all connected to one incident,” said director of instruction Don MacIntyre.
That incident in early October 2013 saw six students from Summerland Secondary School suspended for five days each after “deciding they were going to have some fun they shouldn’t have been having at school” and showing up under the influence of alcohol or drugs, he explained.
“It’s not something that I’ve never seen in my career, but for that number of kids it was unusual.”
Summerland Secondary recorded just five other major suspensions during the year, while Penticton Secondary saw 14 and Princess Margaret Secondary just five.
About half of the penalties were related to drugs or alcohol, which MacIntyre said is typical, while the balance dealt with fighting, theft and weapons.
He is encouraged, however, that the total number of out-of-school suspensions is decreasing due to the increased use of school-based punishments that see kids separated from their peers in different classrooms but still attending and completing work.
Educators “know that when kids miss major portions of school — and these are kids that are probably already at risk and may already have attendance issues — that sending them out for long periods of times is really counterproductive in terms of their education,” MacIntyre said.
“It’s probably best to try to keep the kids as close to you as you can, but keep them separate socially from their peers, which is part of the consequence of poor behaviour. And I’m seeing all three of our high schools moving towards that model.”
Teachers are generally supportive of that approach, too, so long as the safety of staff and other students isn’t compromised.
“I guess depending upon the situation, yes, you want to try and keep the child in school,” said Leslie Woodward, president of the Okanagan Skaha Teachers’ Union.
“It’s still a concern in that if it’s a behaviour issue that it’s still a risk.”
Woodward said while major incidents of student-on-student violence are usually caught, there are many smaller acts of aggression towards teachers, such as kicking or verbal abuse, that go unreported and unpunished.
While she didn’t have statistics available, Woodward said those incidents are due to an increase in the number of special-needs students in classrooms and a decrease in the supports available to them and teachers.
“This is, again, something the government doesn’t recognize and they don’t fund support for these students,” she said.