I am sorry that the suspended students in Ian Shapira's story ["TV, No Homework Can Turn Suspensions Into Vacations," front page, Nov. 28] did not use their time away from school more productively. But when confronted with students "accused of participating in a face-slapping, nail-scratching, hair-pulling scuffle," school officials must respond.
While suspension is not appropriate for all infractions -- e.g., tardiness -- it serves a purpose when student safety is an issue or when time is needed for tempers to cool. In more serious cases such as student violence, the message needs to be clear: Under certain conditions, you lose the right to attend school. In many schools, such as Yorktown High, students are expected to complete assignments missed during suspension.
Finally, I would not take at face value students' apparent indifference to suspension. Few adolescents like being removed from their daily social environment. The number of times Kymber Andre-Sanders checked her cell phone reflects this. I wouldn't be so sure she and her sister would be all that anxious to face the same penalty again, even given its obvious limitations.
Regrettable as they may be, sometimes suspensions have their place.
RAYMOND J. PASI
Yorktown High School
This article took me back to my own school days. I pretty much walked the straight and narrow at school, not because I was afraid of being suspended but because I was afraid of what my parents would do if I were. I knew those would not be fun days sitting at home watching TV.
I was interested in the reaction of Yolanda Sanders, whose daughters were suspended. The story quoted her as saying, "[A]re they really being punished? I don't understand the value that they're trying to teach children." It's too bad she did not take this opportunity to decide for herself and impose the lessons she feels are missing from suspension. What happened to doing chores? Writing a paper? How about sending kids to help out at a homeless shelter or home for the elderly during their suspension?
If schools are finding that this penalty lacks teeth, why not have the students report to school as usual, so they don't miss out on any of their education, but come early and stay late to clean bathrooms or do other chores? Why not impose a community service requirement on students who misbehave? They'll do something useful with their time, and they might learn something beyond what's in their books.
The chart accompanying the story on school suspensions showed data on Virginia and Maryland but noted that "D.C. schools did not provide data on suspensions." The article said, "School officials in the District said comparative data are not available."
Research shows that minority students are suspended at higher rates than white students -- likely a significant element of the achievement gap. It's astounding that the District either does not collect such information or will not release it.
Director of Research
Poverty & Race Research Action Council
The nonprofit Fairfax Partnership for Youth Inc. developed the Support on Suspension (SOS) program so students on suspension can spend the day in a supervised environment, completing schoolwork, talking about healthy choices and doing community service.
SOS is a free, voluntary program designed to provide students in grades seven through 12 with an opportunity to stay abreast of academic work. We work with the Vienna Teen Foundation and the Reston Community Center on SOS and are supported by the Fairfax County Public Schools and the county's Department of Community and Recreation Services.
During the 2003-2004 school year, Fairfax suspended 8,668 students. Not all would have been eligible for SOS, which has one functioning site, but with the 10 sites we are trying to establish we could accommodate more of those who would be.
We have applied for grants and federal funding for SOS. In addition, we are working with the schools and the county to develop a public-private partnership to expand SOS and seek involvement from community- and faith-based organizations.
The costs of vandalism, theft, housing youth in juvenile detention centers or in drug rehabilitation programs, gang association, and the danger of students' failing the Standards of Learning exams far exceed the $35,000 annual cost of an SOS site.
SOS answers a critical need. The challenge remains to find more opportunities to share its success.
ELISE NEIL BENGTSON
KIERAN J. SHARPE
Fairfax Partnership for Youth Inc.
Students who disobey rules at school should be punished, but not by suspension. Students who break rules are often poor, and the last thing most of these students need is to miss class and not be able to make it up.
Many years ago my son attended a Scottish boarding school where authorities dealt with misbehavior by requiring students to work on the school grounds during their free time. The boys hated performing chores while other students played. Surely something similar could work here, and it would be much more appropriate than giving suspended students a holiday.