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Pediatricians oppose school suspension, expulsion

By Andrew M. Seaman

NEW YORK (Reuters Health) - A group representing pediatricians says disciplining students with out-of-school suspension or expulsion is counterproductive to school goals and should only be used on case by case basis.

The policy statement from the American Academy of Pediatrics (AAP) recommends that pediatricians familiarize themselves with the policies of their local school districts, and advocate for prevention and alternative strategies.

"The adverse effect of out-of-school suspension and expulsion on the student can be profound," the experts write in the journal Pediatrics on Monday.

"Data suggest that students who are involved in the juvenile justice system are likely to have been suspended or expelled. Further, students who experience out-of-school suspension and expulsion are as much as 10 times more likely to ultimately drop out of high school than are those who do not," they add.

Kathy Cowan, director of communications for the National Association of School Psychologists in Bethesda, Maryland, said their organization largely supports the AAP's statements.

"Sometimes (out-of-school suspension and expulsion) are absolutely necessary, but they're not effective at improving behavior in general," Cowan told Reuters Health.

The AAP says students who are punished with out-of-school suspension and expulsion may be left without supervision during the day and engage in more inappropriate behavior.

The experts also say out-of-school suspension and expulsion does not deal with possible underlying issues, such as drug abuse, racial tension, violence and bullying.

In addition to the costs incurred by the school district from disciplinary hearings and providing services for the child, the pediatricians say there is also a cost to society.

"A high-school dropout will earn $400,000 less over a lifetime than a high school graduate. The dropout will pay $60,000 less in taxes," they write.

To prevent out-of-school suspensions and expulsions, the pediatricians suggest developing early interventions for preschool children, early identification of children who may have problems in school and clear codes of conduct.

Specifically, they recommend a Positive Behavior Intervention and Support program as a preventive, alternative, tool that teaches proper behavior on a school-wide level and that addresses problems with groups and individual students as well.

The AAP also called on Pediatricians to screen for and recognize behavioral problems in early childhood, to be in communication with the school's nurse or counselor, to be involved with special accommodations for certain students and to be appropriately compensated for their involvement.

Cowan said the AAP should be applauded for their efforts.

"Pediatricians are such an important voice on these issues, because parents trust the pediatricians and they're the ones seeing kids," she said.

Dr. Jeffrey Lamont, the policy statement's lead author, could not be reached for comment before deadline.

(This story has been refiled to say Dr. Lamont could not be reached for comment before deadline in final paragraph)

SOURCE: http://bit.ly/HjQ8dI Pediatrics, online February 25, 2013.

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