PORTSMOUTH, Va. (WVEC) -- Excessive and senseless school suspensions send students down the pipeline to prison say members with the Community Advocates for Portsmouth Students who voiced their concerns during Thursday night’s school board meeting.
“I just want to make sure he gets his education. He's all I have. I only have one kid,” says Crystal Harrison about her son 15-year-old son Cylil. Eleven days ago he was suspended and could be expelled she says because of his involvement in a fight.
“This child is an honor roll student,” she says “Or was and I won't know until they decide if he can return back to school or not," Harrison says.
Now she and other members with Community Advocates for Portsmouth Students, which includes many other parents, are fighting to change the school district's suspension policy in hopes of saving their children's future.
“I feel like this is the pipeline to prison,” Harrison says. “Everybody knows as well as I know that if your kid is not in school they're in the street.”
The group wants the school board to release monthly data about the number of suspensions, end its zero tolerance policy and implement suspension alternatives like meditation or yoga.
“The data that we have compiled proves that some of these alternatives actually work in helping reduce disciplinary issues,” says Sergio Neal with Community Advocates for Portsmouth Students.
According to the group, last year 2,436 students in the Portsmouth School District were suspended.
“Some of those individuals may have been repeat offenders. So it's impossible to calculate the number of days. The most conservative estimate is 7,200 days missed,” Neal says.
“I realize that we have a fair amount of suspensions last school year so we developed an ad hoc committee to look into that,” says Portsmouth School District Superintendent, Dr. Elie Bracy.
Bracy says he hopes the ad hoc committee will help reduce the number of suspensions because both he and the group ultimately want the same thing, which is for students to remain in school.
“When our kids are suspended they're not in school and the more days that they're out they won't be successful on our end of year assessments. So we want them in school,” he says.
Dr. Bracy says he plans to meet with the group’s members soon to further discuss their concerns and the district’s Positive Intervention and Supports system.