Group takes concerns over Portsmouth suspensions to school board

PORTSMOUTH, Va. (WAVY) — Administrators suspended more than 2,400 Portsmouth Public Schools students last year, which records show is more than any other district in the region.

Now, a grassroots group is working with the district to come up with solutions to keep more kids in the classroom.

Members of Virginia Organizing, which developed last spring, voiced their concerns over rising suspension numbers to the Portsmouth School Board at their meeting Thursday night.

“I have friends, I have relatives that are going to school, that are planning on accomplishing their dreams or careers, but if it’s already set up for them to fail, what hope do they have?” said Ramarro Thompson, who graduated from Portsmouth Public Schools in 2011.

Crystal Harrison says her son has been suspended for being late to class, cell phone use and a small fight. She does not believe any of the three incidents should have resulted in a suspension.

“It’s definitely a problem,” said Harrison. “It’s only going to get worse if they don’t make change and do something about it.”

Earlier this month, 10 On Your Side investigated suspension numbers across Hampton Roads. The data shows suspensions are on the rise in Portsmouth. In 2014, records show 2,058 students got suspended. In 2015, about 200 more students got suspended. Last year, 2,449 students received out-of-school punishments.

Superintendent Dr. Elie Bracy says issues with discipline have been on his mind since last spring. Since then, he’s started a discipline committee to figure out why the district is struggling.

“We don’t get anything out of suspensions… because ultimately, if they are at home, they are not learning,” said Bracy.

Ty Mutlow, a parent of a Wilson High School student, says parents need to be held accountable for teaching their children right from wrong.

“[Students] are disrespectful to their peers, they are disrespectful to their teachers, but if they get in trouble or suspended, everyone wants to raise a fuss,” said Mutlow.

Lakeesha Atkinson successfully ran for a school board seat in November. She says kids who get suspended are more likely to land in jail.

In fact, the ACLU says students who get suspended are three times more likely to end up in the juvenile justice system.

“Yes, we can start at home, but what about those kids who have great homes, where the parents are doing all they can, but they are still being disrespectful in school?” said Atkinson.

No one offered solutions Thursday night, but all agreed that any solutions will involve the school and parents working together.

In the meantime, Dr. Bracy says he has launched Positive Behavior Intervention Support, which is a program that rewards students for positive behavior in school.