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IX. Broader Impact

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Many interviewees believe that the increased suspension and expulsion of students are having a broad, negative impact on the student, his or her family, the community and society-at-large. The most commonly identified elements are negative psychological impact, loss of education, higher drop-out rates and increased criminalization and anti-social behaviour.

A. Psychological Impact

Some interviewees believe that suspension and expulsion can have a fairly serious negative psychological impact on the student. An expert on children at risk at an Ontario university has observed that “being expelled makes kids feel differently. They feel that they are not a part of Canadian childhood anymore and that tends to push them to the outside.”[238]

A counsellor at a youth employment program has noticed that “[the students’] self-esteem drops. They feel like they never thought racism would happen or still exists, but now they are thinking, it really is true, I am less of a person because of my colour. And they say, you know what, if that is what people think, I am going to go out and prove what they think.”[239] An outreach worker at a Tamil youth centre notes that there are psychological issues: “A lot of kids I work with have self-esteem problems to begin with, and if they are suspended, they think that they are not going to make it in the world. Their self-esteem just drops. They feel hopeless.”[240] The chair of a Muslim social service organization has observed that “[being suspended] makes a lot of young people angry, and it makes them hate school.... They are shamed in front of their colleagues when they are suspended.”[241] A family services worker at a social service organization that serves the Caribbean and Black community notes that “[i]t affects them psychologically.... Many students don’t have the will power to go on.”[242] The executive director of a Somali social service organization believes that “[i]t is a stigma that the student carries.”[243]

The executive director of a legal clinic that serves children and youth notes that many children with disabilities require continuity – a fixed, predictable regime – which even a short suspension will disrupt.[244] A community worker at a legal clinic that serves persons with disabilities states that children with disabilities who are not accommodated in the education system experience drops in self-esteem and may even become suicidal.[245]

B. Loss of Education

Several interviewees point out that the most tangible loss for a student who is suspended or expelled is education, both present and future. A youth leader states that “[i]f you expel a student, they don’t get an education and that’s a huge negative impact.”[246] The chair of a Muslim social service organization points out that “[a] child who is excluded from school will not learn.”[247] A teacher at an elementary school in a low-income, multiracial community notes that “[t]he more time you are out of a structured learning environment, the less you are learning.”[248] A lawyer at a legal clinic that serves persons with disabilities points out that “[w]hile the student is not receiving academic programming, the student regresses academically.”[249] A lawyer at a legal clinic that serves the Black community states that “it impacts on their plan to go on to post-secondary education.”[250]

The TDSB’s Safe Schools Procedures Manual directs schools, where reasonable and practical, to offer relevant schoolwork to suspended students[251] and a senior official at a school board in the GTA is adamant that principals have a “moral responsibility” to ensure that suspended students get remedial work.[252] Nonetheless, many interviewees report that suspended students rarely receive schoolwork. A school board trustee states that in the ward she represents “none of [the students] get remedial work when they are suspended.”[253] A family services worker at a social service organization that serves the Caribbean and Black community has noted that “not many [students] are given work to do at home.... I don’t see educational support in most cases, unless the parents put extreme pressure on the school.”[254] A counsellor at a youth employment program has observed:

[The students] just have nothing to do. They are not given the work they are supposed to be given. Suppose they run out of the work that they are supposed to have. They can’t go to the school because they are banned from the school. They can’t go to the teacher who they need the work from. It is ridiculous. When the parents try to call in, it is after school hours, or they leave a message and no one gets back to them.[255]

A lawyer, who represents students, believes that a student facing expulsion does not receive schoolwork because the school doesn’t want the student to come back:

I have never had a kid get remedial work. I have never ever had a school say you are subject to a twenty-day suspension, pending an expulsion hearing, and in the meantime this is the work we will provide to you and we will grade it. They want them out. It is motivated by getting these kids out of the system, so if that is your motivation, why would you create an environment of support?[256]

The TDSB runs four program for suspended students and one program for students on limited expulsion,[257] but some interviewees say that it is difficult for a student to get into those programs. The chair of a Muslim social service organization notes that there are no alternative programs for students in junior kindergarten to grade six: “There is a gap in this age group in terms of services and programs that are available. The current programs only address suspensions for grade seven and above and there is nothing below that. At some schools, though, with the coming of the zero tolerance law, suspensions are now experienced from junior kindergarten to grade six.”[258]

A school board trustee has observed that many students above grade seven are unable to get into the Board programs: “I know a student who has been out of school since October of last year and he just turned 17. He is still out of school and hasn’t been placed in a program. They keep promising him.”[259] A lawyer, who represents students, has also noticed that there are “very few spots” in those programs, and none of their clients were in them.[260]

Another school board trustee states that the lack of spaces in the Board’s programs is explained by the Ministry of Education’s failure to support alternative programs for students who are suspended or on limited expulsion:

By the Ministry’s standard, all those students who are kicked out for up to a year are supposed to manage on their own. There is no Ministry funding for programs for limited expulsions or suspensions. We can’t fit all those kids into our programs so they are on their own for four months. They are at home. A kid who has a lousy attendance record and has struggled in school, we tell him to just manage on his own for four months.[261]

As was discussed above, it was not supposed to be like this. During the House debates on the Safe Schools Act, the Minister of Education explicitly promised that the government would support alternative programs for suspended and expelled students.[262]

A senior official at a school board in the GTA states, however, that the Board is providing alternative programs for those students, even though it is not a legal requirement:

There is no legislative requirement, but every student this year who has received a limited expulsion has been provided with opportunity for support in a program. We had some challenges earlier on with the timing on that because of limitations of space, but since the fall we have tripled our resources and spaces for those students. We are looking forward to September to look at other ways – more flexible program offerings – of supporting kids in those circumstances.[263]

Some interviewees also say that it is difficult for some students to get into another school, or if they do, the school is too far away from their home. A lawyer at a legal clinic that serves the Aboriginal community has noticed that “what is so frustrating for students is that they are out [of school] and no one seems to know how to get them back in, particularly when there is a criminal charge.”[264] The executive director of a Somali social service organization has seen cases where “students cannot get into another school” and the parents have to “struggle” to get them into a private Islamic school.[265] A social worker who works with at-risk youth at a high school has observed that students “may get transferred to schools that are far away, and if [the parents] are poor, they may not have the money to give to their kids for TTC.” She gives the example of one case where it took four to five months to find an alternative placement for a student: “She was not happy at home and wanted to be in school, but there were a whole bunch of barriers to get her placed elsewhere. There seems to be politics around getting a student into another program. There are negotiations around taking a student.”[266] A community worker at a social service organization that serves Caribbean and Black youth also provides an example of the difficulties that a student had :

The schools are so bombarded with students that there are waiting lists. The kid I mentioned who was here could not get into another school for three or four months. He came here in November and didn’t get into another school until February. The waiting period is tough for them to overcome. Even then, when he did eventually get into school, access was a problem. There are only a few of those schools in the city. He lived in [the East End] and he had to go all the way to the West End... where the school was.[267]

A senior official at a school board in the GTA confirmed that about 30% of students on limited expulsion do not join alternative programs. He agrees that some students are unable to join because of factors beyond their control, but maintains that others are able but choose not to: “Someone who works for me told me last week about a student on a limited expulsion from now until the end of the school year, who refused the opportunity to go one kilometer away from where he lived. His mother said it was too far and he said that he wanted to get a job.”[268]

C. Dropping Out

Many interviewees believe that the increased use of suspensions and expulsions is pushing students to drop out of school. There are, in fact, American studies which show that suspension is a moderate to strong predictor of a student dropping out and that suspension and expulsion are one of the top three school-related reasons for dropping out.[269] A former equity advisor to a school board in the GTA believes that if studies were done in Toronto, they would show that suspensions and expulsions increase the drop-out rate of Black and other disadvantaged students:

We did some research at [a school board in the GTA] on dropouts and it was quite alarming. There was a correlation between the schools with high drop out rates and the proportion of Black and socially and economically disadvantaged students. If those students are being disproportionately impacted by suspension and expulsion, then the correlation is that the disproportionate drop-out rate for those groups will become even worse.[270]

A community worker at a social service organization that serves Caribbean and Black youth has observed that “[m]ultiple suspensions or expulsion usually leads to dropping out....”[271] A school board trustee, who is also a community worker in a low-income, multiracial community with a significant Black population, has noticed that “[t]he drop out rate is much higher in the Black community because of the zero tolerance policies brought on by the Ministry.... [W]e have sixteen and seventeen year-old Black males in this neighbourhood, who have been kicked out of school, some have learning disabilities and dyslexia and have no jobs skills.... They are chronic dropouts with no life skills, nothing at all.”[272] The coordinator of a Tamil youth centre has observed that “a twenty-day suspension is a month out of school and a trigger to dropping out.”[273] A community worker at a legal clinic that serves the Latino community has noticed that suspensions and expulsions are “increasing the drop-out rate” in the Latino community.[274] A lawyer at a legal clinic that serves the Aboriginal community explains that “Aboriginal students tend not to go as far in school. Every roadblock you put up is another reason for them to drop out.”[275]

D. Criminalization and Anti-Social Behaviour

Many interviewees believe that the application of zero tolerance leads to increased criminalization of students and exacerbates anti-social behaviour. One major area of concern is the increased power given to police to supervise Black students, particularly given the evidence that Blacks are already subject to disproportionate racial profiling by the police.[276] The chair of an organization of parents of Black children states that some Black parents are expressing concern about the “increased police presence in schools.”[277] She cites the example of a thirteen year-old boy who was being handcuffed by the police in his school because an anonymous violent note had been found and someone had attributed it to him. He was being handcuffed even before there was an investigation to ascertain authorship of the note.[278]

A school board trustee recounts a similar incident that she witnessed in a high school where a teenager was handcuffed by police because he had stolen some money: “I saw a Black male student... who was handcuffed and being taken out by White officers. He was taken out in front of his peers like that. He had stolen some money, but it wasn’t a life and death issue, or use of a weapon, where he had to be handcuffed and taken out of the school like that.”[279]

The executive director of a legal clinic that serves children and youth points out that suspended students tend to hang out on streets and malls during the school day, which is a “powerful excuse for police to stop them and question why they aren’t in school. It escalates police supervision of racialized kids.”[280] A lawyer at a legal clinic that serves the Black community believes that this all leads to Black students “being criminalized earlier.”[281]

A lawyer at a legal clinic that serves persons with disabilities believes that the criminalization of students with disabilities is also a direct consequence of the Safe Schools Act:

As part of the uniform approach to behaviour, there are calls to the police about students who exhibit disability-related behaviour. These are excusable behaviours but they are treated the same way as aggressive acts that are inexcusable. It is astounding to think that for merely being a person with a disability and exhibiting behaviours related to that disability, students are facing being arrested by the police and being charged with criminal offences.[282]

An expert on children at-risk at an Ontario university states that there is “good evidence” that suspending and expelling students increases the risk that they will become anti-social or escalates their anti-social behaviour:

Once kids are out of the mainline and expelled, then they are on a different path, for sure. First, they don’t have much to do during the day. They may make contact with older kids or other kids who are having difficulties. That can escalate their anti-social behaviour.... There is some literature that points out if you put anti-social kids together it escalates their anti-social behaviour. What anti-social kids need is a lot of contact with pro-social kids. When they are pushed to the outside and come in contact with other anti-social kids, that escalates their behaviour. It can have an impact on the community in which they live and, of course, it contributes to an important problem in Canada, which is serious anti-social behaviour, both violent and non-violent. Once kids are out of the mainline and out of school, that increases the risk of them becoming anti-social. Or if they are anti-social in the first place, it increases the risk that their anti-social behaviour will increase.[283]

The observations of several of the interviewees, particularly those who work in low-income communities, corroborates this. A social worker who works with at-risk youth in a high school states: “If you have a three- or four-day suspension, I get worried about those kids because they are usually already at-risk and more vulnerable than other kids to get into more trouble. They are the exact kids that need more support, not less.”[284] The chair of a Muslim social service organization, which is located in a low-income community, has observed that “when a child is suspended, he goes home and becomes a prime recruit for drug dealers.”[285] A community worker at a social service organization that serves Caribbean and Black youth has also observed that “[m]ultiple suspensions or expulsions usually leads to dropping out and then joining a gang in the neighbourhood or the neighbourhood drug dealer.”[286]

A counsellor at a youth employment program in a low-income community has directly observed that “[t]he students who are suspended come into the mall and hang out. They vandalize... together.” She has also had discussions with students who express concern about being led into anti-social activity:

It affects their family and the community because they are in the community doing nothing. At least in school they can become useful or learn something useful. Now they are just hanging about doing nothing. The kids have said that they end out hanging out with the bad kids and getting a record for stealing cars or something like that, which is not something they would normally do. They just have nothing to do.[287]

An elementary school principal who has worked extensively in schools in low-income communities made a similar observation: “This community... is not the safest place for kids to be on their own during the day when everyone is at school.... There have been examples of kids under suspension who have got into way bigger trouble than what they were ever suspended for.”[288]

The government knew that this was going to happen. During the House debates on the Safe Schools Act, the then Minister of Education said that the government would provide supports for suspended and expelled students because “sending these kids out on the street only puts the problem somewhere else and actually creates additional problems, not only for those students but also for the community....”[289] Nonetheless, to date, the government has failed to fulfill its promise to provide those supports for suspended students and students on limited expulsion.

[238]Supra note 174 at 2.
[239]Supra note 11 at 2-3.
[240] Interview, 15 May 2003, 5.
[241]Supra note 14 at 5.
[242]Supra note 127 at 3.
[243]Supra note 126 at 2.
[244]Supra note 129 at 4.
[245] Interview, 10 April 2003, 6.
[246] Interview, 19 March 2003, 1.
[247]Supra note 14 at 6.
[248]Supra note 170 at 3.
[249]Supra note 208 at 5.
[250]Supra note 13 at 2.
[251]Supra note 82.
[252]Supra note 2, 14 May 2003, at 3.
[253]Supra note 12 at 5.
[254]Supra note 127 at 2-3.
[255]Supra note 11 at 3.
[256]Supra note 151, 24 April 2003, at 4.
[257]Supra note 81.
[258]Supra note 14 at 1.
[259]Supra note 12 at 5.
[260]Supra note 151, 11 April 2003, at 4.
[261]Supra note 146 at 3.
[262]Ontario Debates (Hansard), 6 June 2000, supra note 28.
[263]Supra note 2, 14 May 2003, at 4.
[264]Supra note 132 at 2.
[265]Supra note 126 at 2.
[266]Supra note 167 at 3.
[267]Supra note 160 at p. 3.
[268]Supra note 2, 14 May 2003, at 4.
[269] Skiba, supra note 232; L.M. DeRidder, “How Suspension and Expulsion Contributes to Dropping Out,” The Education Digest, February 1991.
[270]Supra note 202 at p. 3.
[271]Supra note 160 at p. 2.
[272]Supra note 12 at 1-3.
[273]Supra note 17 at 5.
[274]Supra note 133 at 2.
[275]Supra note 132 at 3.
[276] See e.g. the October 2002 Toronto Star series on racial profiling:
[277] Supra note 30 at 4.
[278]Ibid. at 2.
[279]Supra note 12 at 2.
[280]Supra note 129 at 4.
[281]Supra note 13 at 2.
[282]Supra note 208 at 6.
[283]Supra note 174 at 2-3.
[284]Supra note 167 at 2.
[285]Supra note 14 at 5.
[286]Supra note 160 at 2.
[287]Supra note 11 at 2-3.
[288]Supra note 130 at 4.
[289]Ontario Debates (Hansard), 6 June 2000, supra note 28.


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