School discipline efforts are on the rise after the COVID-19 pandemic as behavior issues and teacher shortages give learning institutions problems. More students are being sent home for yelling in class, fighting on campus or talking back to teachers. Experts have expressed concern over what they call “soft suspensions,” which can include practices such as forcing children to spend time in seclusion rooms, constantly sending a child home from school early and requiring students to do virtual learning as a disciplinary measure, USA Today reports. Although the U.S. suspension rate has dropped from its peak of 7% in 2010, it plateaued at around 5% for the years leading up to 2018. In New York City Public Schools, more suspensions were issued during the first half of the 2022-2023 school year, a 27% increase from the same period in 2021. An analysis of data from schools in Washington, D.C., also found that in-school suspensions increased by 16% during the 2021-2022 school year.
In May, the Biden administration urged public schools to follow civil rights guidance and avoid discriminatory school discipline measures. Ellen Reddy, an advocate who fights against suspensions in Mississippi, said children are often suspended for subjective reasons that haven’t changed since she first got involved in advocacy over two decades ago. Several states, including Arizona and Nevada, have attempted to bring back harsher disciplinary policies, while others are using practices like seclusion rooms and forcing misbehaving students into remote learning. The Houston Independent School District, the largest district in Texas, drew criticism in late July when it announced it would be eliminating 28 school libraries and repurposing them into “team centers” where educators can host kids for discipline. Students with disabilities received nearly a quarter out-of-school suspensions during the 2017-18 school year, almost double the demographic’s overall share of student enrollment of 13%. Black students were also disproportionately suspended, making up only 15% of student enrollment, but receiving 38% of out-of-school suspensions that same school year.