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Lee County Schools considering district-wide alternatives to suspensions

Posted at 6:51 PM, Jan 25, 2021
and last updated 2021-01-25 18:55:54-05

LEE COUNTY, Fla. — After using what they call restorative techniques to redirect students. Franklin Park Elementary School in Fort Myers saw an 80 percent decline in school suspensions. They dropped from more than 300 in 2016 to 60 in 2018, according to their former behavioral specialist.

Lee County Schools Student Services presented their action plan for student behavior before the school board Monday. They suggested alternatives to suspensions. Something behavioral specialist Ms. Annette Miller knows all too well.

“Make it so that when the next time this incident or this situation comes up, what are you going to do that’s going to be different?” she said.

That was her message to Franklin Park students who got sent to her ‘Reflect, Regroup and Repair' room for misbehaving in class. There they’d process their actions, and have a conversation with the people they affected. she says that’s a better alternative to suspensions, which negatively affect students.

“Even when they come back to school, all should be forgive. It’s not. They now become the target where they’ll get another suspension, and another one,” said Miller.

She’s not against suspensions, but believes that should be used in extreme circumstances like a full-fledged fight or ongoing bullying.

Licensed mental health counselor Dr. Laura Streyffeler says suspensions send students the wrong message.

“Well, I can’t be with the good kids. So now I have to be with the bad kids,” she said.

She says that can have a long-term effect on their perception of themselves.

“First they start feeling isolated, and then they start separating themselves very often,” she said.

Which Miller says with suspensions could contribute to the school to prison pipeline - students getting in more trouble in school tend to end up in the criminal justice system.

“You have the kids that who - when they are suspended - they don’t go home. They roam the streets, which helps to build up the crime in the community,” she said.

Right now, the restorative justice model isn’t mandatory for Lee County Schools, but they are considering making it a district-wide expectation within the next several years.