DETROIT – There were 16,000 suspensions handed out to Detroit public school students throughout the course of the school year, and now the Detroit Public Schools Community District is planning major changes.
A new code of conduct, which would replace the current code that is 49 pages long, is being considered. It will lay out the framework for how students are supposed to behave and how discipline is given out.
On graduation day for Westside Academy High School, Deon Brown said he can't even count the number of times he was suspended as a middle school student.
"I'm very proud of myself," he said. "I came a long way."
Brown said students should get help from the school when something happens.
"They should change that around and get help first and see what's going on," Brown said. "See why they got suspended."
Had it not been for Westside, recently renamed West Side Academy of Information Technology and Cyber Security, which is also an alternative school for students in trouble academically and with behavior problems, Brown said he would have been lost.
"I wasn't paying attention," Brown said. "Focusing on females and getting into a lot of fights."
The number of incidents of suspensions in the school system are high, and many of those include repeat offenders.
"The thing that troubled me the most was just the sheer number of students that we have that are just not in class full time," DPSCD Board of Education member Sonya Mays said. "It is really, really difficult to make the argument that you can learn what you need to learn and be a successful graduate of this district if your body is not in the seat, it's not in the classroom."
"The data speaks for itself," DPSCD Superintendent Nikolai P. Vitti said. "We're suspending too many children."
The focus moving forward this fall will be keeping students in school, even if they have to be educated in another space.
"The major initiative is to build an in-school suspension program at every school," Vitti said. "This allows students, when they make mistakes, because students are going to make mistakes, that they learn from those mistakes without being excluded from the learning environment."
Hence the change in the student code of conduct.
"Even on some initial fighting incidents, we believe that an in-school suspension is more effective than an out-of-school suspension," Vitti said.
Brown said he wasn't a bad child, but someone who was in a bad place, doing bad things.
"I finished, and I did the good thing," Brown said. "I did what was right for me."
The new code of conduct is being voted on Tuesday by the full board. It isn't about a lack of accountability, but the ability to educate students while they're being held accountable.