Columbia Public Schools using alternatives to suspension

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COLUMBIA - A recent study shows Missouri had the highest school suspensions in the nation when it came to black elementary students.

The most recent study shows 14.4% of black elementary students were suspended at least once in Missouri compared to 7.6% of black students nationwide.

Community Relations Director Michelle Baumstark said Columbia Public School District has used various alternatives in hopes of holding students accountable for their behavior.

"We look at ways to promote positive behavior in our buildings, incentives for students to help encourage good behavior, we try to address a lot of the social, emotional issues that may be occuring," Baumstark said. 

She said the alternatives have addressed the high number of suspensions in previous years and have led to a decrease in numbers. In 2011, 198 students had an out of school suspension compared to last year with only 36 out of school suspensions.

The district has alternatives for out of school suspensions including the expansion of in-school suspension opportunities, Saturday detentions and its alternative suspension center, ACE. 

Baumstark said the district noticed a dynamic change in factors contributing to the suspension of students.

"So many of the issues that we see are really related more toward needing more counseling and mental health support versus there actually being a one time behavioral issue," Baumstark said. 

She said the district has begun certain training for faculty and staff in an effort to continue the decrease in out of school suspensions and better reach students.

"We actually have equity teams that are meeting now, we're working with several organizations within the community as well to involve them in that process so we can have good, open dialogue," Baumstark said. 

She said one thing Columbia may be doing differently from other local districts is having an alternative high school for students, allowing many to graduate. 

At the end of the day, Baumstark said the district is continuing to focus on having various policies in place to support student learning.

"We are trying to have procedures and processes in place that will help us be more successful when it comes to that because we do want all of our students to have a successful educational experience," Baumstark said.