Suspensions up nearly 25 percent in Rochester public schools

Student behavior and discipline continues to be a significant challenge for teachers, administrators and other students in the post-pandemic era. Newly released statistics from the recently concluded school year indicate the number of suspensions in Rochester public schools climbed nearly 25 percent over the previous academic year.

“Suspension, I’m confident, is used carefully in Rochester Public Schools,” RPS Superintendent Kent Pekel said at a recent school board meeting. “But it is used.”

In fact, total out-of-school suspensions rose from 1,224 to 1,523 year over year in the seventh biggest school district in Minnesota, one of several key behavioral metrics released in the meeting covered by the Post Bulletin.

The number of suspensions increased in Rochester Public Schools in 2022-23 when compared to the year before, providing school leaders with an ongoing challenge as they try to foster a productive learning environment…

“Behavior, broadly defined, continues to be a challenge — not just in K-12 schools but in American society,” Superintendent Kent Pekel said.

District officials found that seven percent of Rochester’s 17,500 students received an infraction of some sort last school year. Potential infractions include abusive language, disrupting class, fighting, alcohol and drugs, among others. The report highlighted several other findings.

1. Significant decreases in fighting and assault

2. Increases in interruption to learning environment and physically aggressive behavior

3. With new cell phone policy, significant increase in personal device-related infractions

4. Use of out of school suspensions increased. The race / ethnicity distribution is unchanged

Cases of academic cheating also jumped from six to 46, still seemingly low given the size of the district. Middle school students accounted for the greatest number of overall infractions again last school year.

The category with the highest number of the instances was “interruptions to the learning environment.” There were 1,484 instances of that, representing a 35% increase over the year before.

There were 240 drug and alcohol infractions, compared with 180 the year before — a 33% increase.

Other categories saw a decrease. There were 556 instances of assaults and fighting in 2022-23, which was down from 703 the year before — representing a 21% decrease.

There were 120 instances of property damage and theft, down from 148 the year before — representing an 18.9% decrease.

There’s one area guaranteed to improve, at least on paper next school year, given the state requirement for all districts to end suspension of students in third grade and below.

“We will not be suspending students from zero up to third grade, that’s going to be a shift,” Pekel said. “It was not large numbers but that was happening.”

Yet with just weeks to go before the new school year, RPS and other districts still await direction from the state on how exactly teachers will be allowed to discipline their youngest students who get out of hand.