School behavioral infractions remain above 30,000 annually

Jarek RutzEducation, Headlines

A state committee created to evaluate and make recommendations to improve the environment of schools had its third meeting Monday night in which it learned that there were more than 30,000 behavioral infractions to middle and high school students in 2022.

Although that number dropped in 2023, it was still north of 11,000 for high schoolers and nearly 14,000 for middle schoolers.

The 24-member Student Behavior and School Climate Task Force is made of government and educational officials, as well as school behavioral specialists and resource officers.

RELATED: School behavior group wants more funding for specialists

Delaware Department of Education Education Associate Rosie Morales presented the data, which included 37,000 offenses in 2022 that resulted in suspension or expulsion, with out-of-school suspensions without services being the highest discipline tool utilized statewide.

That’s a tool that some committee members deemed ineffective. 

Sen. Eric Buckson, R-Dover, said he’d only like to see out-of-school suspensions if there’s a legal reason why a student needs to be removed, or if they are a direct threat to other people in the building. 

He’d like to see more intervention with the student to reverse their negative behavior, especially if it’s reoccurring. 

“Whether it’s a simple counseling, whether it’s behavior specialist, whether it’s school, psychologists or all together, the parents are thrown in and you’re brought in on that third and fourth offense where everybody’s meeting,” he said. 

Education experts have said that removing a student from school often just results in a day-off and can contribute to learning loss.

The top three offenses in schools in 2022 were skipping class (8305), fighting (7659) – and one that surprised some committee members –  offensive touching with a  student victim (6403).

Morales defined the last offense as “somebody intentionally touching another student.”

Out-of-school suspensions without additional services accounted for 47.53% of consequences, with in-school-suspensions making up 42% of the disciplinary actions taken.

As one would predict, elementary school students made up the fewest number of infractions, while middle school and high school infractions were seemingly neck-and-neck. 

But, middle school has more incidents, and that gap between middle school infractions and high school infractions has grown.

Below shows, in order from left to right, elementary school, high school and middle school: 

In 2023 elementary schools saw an increase in infractions, whereas infractions decreased in middle and high schools. Middle schools had 2,700 more incidents than high school students.

Although a specific number was not shared, Morales pointed out that incidents involving possession of marijuana, tobacco and vape products have increased. 

The committee is working with three pillars of school climate in mind, which are engagement, safety and environment: 

Also, the U.S. Department of Education defines school climate as: “a broad, multifaceted concept that involves many aspects of the student’s educational experience. A positive school climate is the product of a school’s attention to fostering safety; promoting a supportive academic, disciplinary, and physical environment; and encouraging and maintaining respectful, trusting, and caring relationships throughout the school community no matter the setting from pre-K/elementary school to higher education.”

Committee Chair Bryan Townsend, D-Newark, said he’d like more specific data on schools and districts, rather than just by county.

This would allow the committee to see what districts have disciplinary models that perhaps work better, he said. 

Buckson said he wishes the data went back more years to 2017-2018 at least, to really get a grasp of disciplinary trends. 

The committee’s next meeting is Monday, June 24 at 4 p.m. Watch it here.

See more of the data presented below:

DDOE-Discipline-Data-4-29-24.pdf

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