Suspension rates dropping in Abbotsford schools

Superintendent credits better behaviour, focus on restorative justice.

Kevin Godden

Kevin Godden

Suspension rates in the Abbotsford School District continue to drop, according to the district’s annual report, which was presented to the Board of Education at last week’s meeting.

The district saw a 21 per cent drop in the total number of suspensions issued in the 2013-14 school year compared to the previous year. That’s just the latest decrease in a larger trend that has seen suspensions fall by roughly 40 per cent since the 2009-10 school year.

For the last eight years, the school district has moved towards a restorative justice model for disciplining students, rather than relying on suspensions, officials say.

While that could account for some of the decrease, officials believe the ongoing decrease in suspension rates is also reflective of students’ improved conduct.

“We are increasingly confident that the interventions at the school and district levels … have played a role in evident improvement in student behaviour,” said the report, which was delivered by retiring assistant superintendent Steve Carlton in his final board meeting.

With academic reports suggesting that suspensions may do more harm than good, school districts have been focusing on other measures to improve discipline.

“We know that there’s a correlation between suspensions and dropouts,” superintendent Kevin Godden told The News. “You have a choice when a child misbehaves: You can send them home to watch TV, or you can work with them to fix the harm that they created.”

He said the district has worked toward a restorative justice model, that looks at resolving conflict and situations in schools, rather than removing students from classrooms.

Suspensions still happen, but they have dropped from 1,365 in 2009-10 to 791 last year.

That number, he says, is a measure of adult behaviour – namely, the decision to suspend. But Godden said student-outcome numbers also suggest the approach may be working.

“I don’t think it’s by accident that our graduation rate has gone up,” he said, noting that many of those who leave school before receiving a diploma become “disengaged with school in part because of suspension.”

He also thinks the new approach has decreased the number of repeat offenders.

“When you build that kind of culture which involves how you talk to kids and how you deal with errors in judgment, there is a reduced likelihood of repeat offenders.”