The steep drop in suspensions at Wake County schools over the past five years raises a question: Are the students behaving better or are the schools?
The answer is likely both. Suspensions soared in Wake a few years ago as principals cracked down on bad behavior, but the punishment was usually worse than the offense. Banning children from school can put them behind in their schoolwork and increase the odds of their dropping out. It can also place children and teens in unsupervised settings where they may be at risk or get into more serious trouble.
Wake was suspending so many students, a highly disproportionate number of them African-American, that the U.S. Department of Education's Office for Civil Rights opened a review in response to a 2010 complaint about bias in suspensions. That review continues, but the problem is fading. Suspensions from Wake County schools have dropped from 20,244 in 2009-10 to 11,205 in 2013-14, a 45 percent decline. The numbers are going down largely because principals are taking a softer approach to less serious offenses.
Children belong in school, but children will also bend rules, skip classes and talk back to teachers. The best approach isn't to suspend them from school. It's to keep them in school where they can learn good behavior.