The Southern Ontario RSEKN team has focused its efforts on school exclusion in marginalized youth in Ontario. An important area of exclusion relates to suspension and expulsion. Previous blogs have discussed inequality in rates of suspension in youth with disabilities and black youth. These are two examples of marginalized youth who are more likely to experience suspensions and expulsions in school environments.

As we have discussed youth with disabilities such as autism, ADHD, learning disabilities and intellectual disabilities are more likely to be removed from the classroom or school when their behaviors or needs become too much for the school to handle. Additionally, black youth receive suspensions and expulsions from school at shockingly high rates compared to their white peers. 

There is no proof that suspensions and expulsions work to improve the problem behaviors and create any kind of positive change for students. Rather youth who are suspended or expelled from school are likely to repeat offenses and be suspended or expelled a second time. Further, as our previous blogs discussed, suspensions and expulsions lead to negative consequences for most youth. For youth with disabilities, suspensions and school breaks disrupt any potential learning success they have. Additionally, these students are more likely to drop out of school or repeat a grade. For black youth, suspensions and expulsions lead to increased dropout rates compared to their white peers. 

Suspensions and expulsions evidently lead to negative academic outcomes for marginalized youth as they are not present in the classroom. However, another factor is important to consider. In our blog on suspension and expulsion in black youth we reported the views of black youth on their experiences with school. These youth express feeling more negatively about their school experiences, lack a feeling of safety in the school environment and feel like they cannot trust school staff or authority figures in the school. When youth do not feel safe and cannot trust the people in charge of teaching them, there is a break in an important system and the relationships that should hold that system together. If youth don’t feel like they can trust their teachers and principals, why would they try to improve on any kind of behavior? How can they focus on learning? Why should they be motivated in the school environment?

The Southern Ontario RSEKN team has worked on finding resources to support more positive responses to students “negative behaviors”. One approach that Ontario boards have begun to turn to involves restorative approaches to education which focuses on four principles: relationality, contextualism, dialogism and future orientation. The goal of restorative approaches to education is to build strong and positive relationships in a safe and inclusive environment and focus on working towards a more positive future rather than focusing on past negative events. Schools and schoolboards across Ontario have begun to turn towards restorative approaches and the results have been very positive. Schools that have turned to this approach benefit from improved relationships and students that have the opportunity to not only understand consequences of behaviors better but also have the opportunity to voice their opinions and experiences with authority figures. The Southern Ontario RSEKN team recently released a research brief outlining restorative approaches to education and success stories as a resource for school teams across Ontario. It provides an excellent definition of restorative approaches and examples of how this approach can be used in all schools.  

Another resource that will be developed by the Southern Ontario RSEKN team and released this Fall will be a video providing narratives of exclusion in Ontario schools, facts and statistics. Alongside the video will be a number of resources and questions to open the discussion for change in the way we work towards not only increasing inclusion but also reducing exclusion in our schools for all marginalized youth. 

Written by: Olivia Faulconbridge

Too often we forget that discipline really means to teach, not to punish. A disciple is a student, not a recipient of behavioral consequences

– Dr. Dan Siegel, The Whole-Brain Child
Olivia Faulconbridge

Communication Officer for RSEKN’s Southern Regional team | L'agente de communication de l'équipe régionale du Sud de RSEKN.