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October 18, 2005
Suspensions at Cairo High School must be stopped

Teenager at computer When I first heard what Cairo High School's 2003-2004 suspension rate was, I thought surely the person who told me was wrong. The national average for school suspensions in 2000 was 4.4 percent of the total enrollment of the school. The Illinois average is 6.6 percent. Cairo Junior/Senior High's suspension rate is about 70 percent of the school's enrollment.

The rate is probably closer to 78% since I'm attributing 49 of the 249 suspensions in 2003-2004 to those students in K-6. (The figures at the Illinois Board of Education website are for K-12, so I called Bennett School and was told that they have few suspensions. Still, I applied 49 suspensions to grade school to come up with the 70% figure for the high school.)

Cairo Junior Senior High has 312 students according to their school Report Card. Yet, 249 suspensions were issued last year. The number of suspensions "only once" was 166. That means 166 different students were suspended. That's almost half the school! Here's the chart.

Any way you look at it, Cairo High School's suspension rate is indicative of a serious problem. Suspensions should be reserved for the most serious offenses, not for classroom management. Suspensions are directly related to lower grades, delinquency and higher drop out rates (Cairo's drop out rate is 14%, the state average is 4%).

As one parent said in an article about school suspensions, "They [suspensions] are a cop out."

I agree.

I grew up in a working class family of nine, with parents who worked full time, a sister and five brothers. Just as my mother had done, I intended to back the schools regarding discipline. Unlike my mother, I've had to deal with schools sending my boys home. My mother would have raised heck if the schools dared send my brothers home, because she had to work. It's different today. Too many schools pass the buck to the parents saying "we are not their babysitters", yet kids have been disruptive at schools ever since schools have been in existence.

Historically, suspensions were reserved for violent kids, not insubordinate ones. I know that in the schools my siblings and I attended, the principal (in jr./sr. high it was the dean) took the time to talk with my brothers. To look them in the eyes. Acknowledge them. Not just get rid of them.

Urban schmerben, some administrators claim foul about their suspension rates because the kids are "urban" (code word for minority). That's a cop out. There are 144 inner city Chicago Elementary Schools that have shown 15 years of substantial, sustained achievement gains. Read what those schools did at

Rachel Carson School (enrollment 1,240) is one of those schools in Chicago. The school is 99% low-income, yet has one suspension every two years, on average.

Cairo High School is on the Academic Watch Status list (AWS). Schools on AWS have failed to make progress for two additional years after being placed on Academic Early Warning and are eligible for additional state sanctions. It's imperative that the suspensions stop, so the students can be at school to learn. Perhaps peer mediation should be considered. If there is a fight, peer mediators help to resolve the conflict. If a student uses profanity, then 30 minutes in a time-out room. Please don't refer to it as the Crisis Room!

Consider the number of suspensions at Cairo High School when reading this:

"Considerable evidence suggests that a history of suspension from school accelerates youths’ progress along a pathway to delinquency and life-long failure. Suspension has been related to school failure, dropout, delinquency, and criminal behavior. Students who are suspended tend to receive lower grades, are more likely to have learning or emotional disabilities, or to have academic skill deficits (Costenbader & Markson, 1998).," from

The American Academy of Pediatrics has issued a policy statement against school suspensions and expulsions. Here's an introduction to the Statement:

"In 1997, 3.1 million students were suspended from school, mostly for non-violent acts. These students often end up at home, unsupervised, for periods of time. For many of these students, difficult home situations or mental illness is a contributing factor to their suspension or expulsion. The statement's authors cite evidence that out-of-school adolescents are more likely to use drugs, engage in sexual intercourse and develop thoughts of suicide. The lack of professional help at the time of removal from school, when a student most needs it, increases the risk of permanent school drop out."
More at

Suspensions send a message to the student that he/she is not worth dealing with. Not worth the time it takes to give them a cooling off period. Not worth the time it takes to ask them what is happening at home. That is what an effective administrator does. And that approach is what accounts for the low number of suspensions at schools like Rachel Carson.

According to the U.S. Department of Education, poor academic performance is the strongest predictor of risk of dropping out of school. In Cairo when a student is suspended, he/she is not allowed to receive credit for tests and homework assigned during those days away from school.

If your child is suspended, Illinois Pro Bono recommends the following:

"You should ask for schoolwork for your child during the suspension. This makes it easier for your child to keep up in school. In Chicago, the disciplinary code states that schools should try to make sure students receive schoolwork during the suspension, and that grades will not be lowered for students who complete their schoolwork satisfactorily."

That makes sense, since suspensions lead to low academic performance, which leads to dropping out, drugs and worse.

In an article entitled, "Reducing the Dropout Rate," by E. Gregory Woods, Mr. Woods concludes, "The key to reducing the dropout rate is helping youth to overcome their sense of disconnectedness. It is imperative not to isolate or alienate any students from the school."

Yet that is exactly what suspensions and expulsions do.

On the web:
Cairo Schools Report Card at Northern Illinois University
Regional Office of Education #02 in Ullin
End of the Year Reports at the Illinois Board of Education
U.S. Dept. of Education
National Center for Education Statistics
What should you do if your child is suspended?

© 2005 The Cairo Gate