March 17, 2015 - 7:29 PM
KELOWNA - Suspension rates at Central Okanagan schools have been dropping steadily in the last five years, mirroring in part the decline in crime rates in communities across Canada.
But the superintendent of schools for the Central Okanagan says the district can claim part of the credit for helping push down the suspension rates with behavioural programming and codes of conduct introduced in the last decade.
“There was the development of special programs and academies and those types of things,” says Hugh Gloster. “I’m certainly not suggesting we are a not a microcosm of society. But kids are finding their niche and a higher per cent are engaged and not getting themselves into trouble and being more successful.”
In his suspensions report to school trustees, Gloster notes that definite suspensions within the district dropped from 1,616 in 2009 to 1,106 last year. The more serious indefinite suspensions dropped from 52 to 15 over the same period (they hit a high of 139 in 1996).
Definite suspensions range from one to 10 days and can be handed out at the school level. Indefinite suspensions are anything beyond 10 days but are handled at the district level and must include a quasi-judicial hearing involving parents, teachers and school district officials.
Even when expelled, students are immediately offered alternatives, Gloster said, even if they can’t attend their neighbourhood school.
“We haven’t truly expelled a student for as long as I can remember,” he said. “We will continue to try to work with the student even if it’s from home. Our goal has always been to provide and educational setting, no matter what the circumstances."
Truancy, drugs, fighting and the catch-all behaviourial category continue to dominate the suspension statistics. Males make up most of the suspension rolls committing about two-thirds of all offenses.
While the number of drug offences has drifted around and truancy remains relatively constant, both fighting and behavioural offenses have followed the downward trend.
Fighting suspensions have dropped to 91 last year from 226 in 2009. Behaviorial offences tumbled from 528 that year to 317 last year. Bullying offenses had been on the upswing, starting at 77 in 2009 and generally increasing each year before dropping to 44 in 2014.
“We start at a much earlier age now with behaviour support programs,” Gloster said. “We teach at a much younger age now the appropriate behaviour from the bus to the hallways to the gym and out onto the playing fields."
The district’s middle and secondary schools continue to produce almost all the suspensions with just one recorded at an elementary school in the last five years.
For his part, Gloster says the district has every reason to expect the number of suspensions in both catagories will continue to decline, if proactive intervention programs continue.
“Should this be done, it is expected these lower numbers of suspensions may become the expected norm,” he said.
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