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School Suspension in Canada

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School Suspension in Canada

School Suspension means that a student cannot enter the school and is not allowed to take part in any school activities.


1. School Suspension

2. The Toronto District School Board

3. The Safe Schools Act

4. The Ontario Human Rights Commission

5. Marginalization

6. Racialization

7. Powerlessness

8. Bill 212


9. References



School Suspension in Canada

Suspensions in Canada are regulated by the Toronto District School Board (1) (TDSB) which is the largest school Board in Canada. Their mission is to enable all students to reach high levels of achievement, and to acquire knowledge, skills and values they need to become responsible members of a democratic society (www.tdsb.on.ca). Discipline and school ‘punishment’ fall under the domain of the former Safe Schools Act (2); as part of the Education Act and was passed in the year 2000. The Act takes into account Codes of Conduct across all schools in Ontario whose aim is to promote respect and responsibility in the school system by establishing clear rules and consequences of student behaviour (Byrd, B; Cameron, B; Hill, M; Kerr, M & McLeod, B.,  2005)(3). It is within these Codes of Conduct outlining acceptable behaviour, that the Safe Schools Act outlines specific unacceptable behaviours requiring suspension or expulsion (Safer Schools, Safer Communities, 2005)(4).

Suspension, according to the TDSB means that a student cannot enter the school and is not allowed to take part in any school activities. The suspension can last anywhere from one day to twenty days dependent on the type of behaviour (Safe and Caring Schools, 2005) (5). Suspensions, discretionary or mandatory, are a consequence of displaying unacceptable behaviour which is determined by school administrators; predominantly by the Principal and/or Vice-Principal and occasionally by the teacher (Safe and Caring Schools, 2005). The amount of time for the suspension will be determined by the seriousness of the incident. At the time of suspension, parents will be contacted via phone and by follow up letter, especially for students under the age of eighteen (Safe and Caring Schools, 2005).


A mandatory suspension results in the student being excluded from school and a discretionary suspension means that a Principal can decide whether a suspension is necessary based on what behaviour is demonstrated on that occasion (Safe and Caring Schools, 2005). Under the Safe Schools Act the following misbehaviours will lead to a mandatory suspension:

¨     Uttering a threat to inflict serious harm on another person

¨     Possessing alcohol or illegal drugs or being under the influence of either

¨     Swearing at a person in authority

¨     Committing an act of vandalism that causes extensive damage to the school property or

¨     Any other activity that is an activity for which a Principal may suspend a pupil under a policy of the board (Safe and Caring Schools, 2005).


The following behaviours may lead to a discretionary suspension:

¨     Frequently opposing school authorities

¨     Harming school or TDSB property

¨     Swearing, smoking, stealing

¨     Physically hurting another person

¨     Being under the influence of an illegal drug

¨     Extortion

¨     Sexually or physically hurting or harming someone

¨     Saying racist, sexist or other harassing things

¨     Using phones,  the internet or other devices in a harmful way (Safe and Caring Schools, 2005)


Before administering a suspension a Principal or school administrators must take into consideration mitigating factors. Mitigating factors are factors to consider before suspending a student and include whether:

¨     The student has the ability to control or can understand the consequences of her or his behaviours

¨     The student’s continuing presence in the school creates an unacceptable risk for anyone

      (Safer Schools, Safer Communities, 2005)

¨     Is at risk or danger to himself or herself

¨     Is affected by other things happening for example, bullying or other harassing behaviour

¨     Is responding to racist, sexist, bullying or other harassing behaviours (Byrd, et al, 2005).


In serious situations, the Safe Schools Act and Ontario Code of Conduct require the police to be called when a student:

¨     Possesses a weapon or uses a weapon to cause bodily harm or threatens someone         

¨     Commits robbery

¨     Has, uses, or sells, or provides someone with alcohol, illegal drugs, or a hazardous substance

¨     Causes extensive damage

¨     Physically or sexually assaults someone (Byrd, et. al, 2005).


If a parent, guardian or caregiver disagrees with the suspension or treatment of their child, an appeal process is available. Any suspension over a day can be appealed (Byrd, et al, 2005). A letter with details must be submitted with a week. At the time of the appeal hearing, the facts and evidence of what happened will be reviewed and considered by the trustee committee (Safe and Caring Schools, 2005). A decision will then determine whether the suspension will remain or whether the student can return to her/his home school. 


During the time of suspension, regardless of the activity, each student has the option to attend a TDSB school based program or a community based suspension program. The programs are voluntary and help a student continue on with his or her educational goals while supporting a student in addressing the behaviours that lead to the suspension (Safe and Caring Schools, 2005). Once the suspension is complete the student may return to her or his home school unless she or he has been criminally charged. In this case, the student will be referred to an alternate school by Safe School Advisors (Safe and Caring Schools, 2005).


The Safe Schools Act has attempted to regulate behaviour and create safer schools in Ontario however; numerous complaints from students, parents/guardians, legal clinics and community agencies have challenged the effectiveness of the Safe Schools Act.


Challenge to Suspension – Ontario Human Rights Commission


Suspension in Canada has been addressed by numerous Canadian authors (Solomon & Palmer, 2004(6); African Legal Clinic, 2002(7); Pieters, 2003(8); Bhattacharjee, 2003(9); Ruck & Wortley, 2002)(10).  The preceding authors describe the Safe Schools Act, as having a disproportionate impact on racialized students and students with learning challenges. It is due to the dearth of race based statistics, that reliance is placed on the collection of anecdotal information and relevant studies accumulating in complaints being forwarded to the Ontario Human Rights Commission (OHRC). The OHRC has been instrumental for their involvement in a landmark settlement with the TDSB (metro 2005, see, www.tdsb.on.ca).


Bhattacharjee (2003), responsible for complying the OHRC report, notes that “the general feeling is that discipline policies have always had a disproportionate impact on Black students, but the Act and ‘zero tolerance’ policies have made the problem much worse with significantly higher numbers of Black students being suspended...” (pp vi). It has resulted in the racialization and marginalization of students (Bhattacharjee, 2003; Solomon & Palmer, 2004; African Legal Clinic, 2002; Pieters, 2003 & Ruck & Wortley, 2002; Henry & Tator, 2006) (11), leaving students and parents/caregivers with a sense of powerlessness (Henry & Tator, 2006). 


Suspension is believed to be a practice in which Canadian and other racialized students are prone to disproportionate exclusion rooted in racist practices (African Legal Clinic, 2005). It is through the lived experiences of students, that racism and heightened surveillance have resulted in harsher and longer suspensions that differ from their ‘white’ counterparts (Solomon & Palmer, 2004).  This is reiterated by Pieters (2003), who states that Black/racialized students are subjected to the excessive application of harsh discipline prescribed by the Safe Schools Act because of perceptions based on race, class and socio-economics.


It is believed that Black students were more likely than South Asian, Asian, White and other racial backgrounds, to face discriminatory treatment and greater likelihood of suspension (Ruck & Wortley, 2002). This is recognized by former school trustee, now Minister of Education, Kathleen Wyne, who lamented on the significant increase in suspensions while adding that a disproportionate amount of students subjected to suspensions and expulsions were Black (in Pieters, 2003). Additionally, a recent study of students attending a community based suspension program found that 69% of participants were of racialized groups and relayed via anecdotal evidence the iniquitous disciplinary action demonstrated through suspension (Arthurton, 2007). Many racialized minority students, their parents, communities, educators and scholars in Canada and the United States perceive that there is a differential, negative impact of a ‘zero tolerance’ approach on students of colour, particularly Black students (Henry & Tator, 2006).  The preceding accounts of unfair treatment have contributed to the marginalization of students by means of exclusion and drop out as a result of suspension and perceived discriminatory practices. 

This marginalization is felt by students and parents who indicate feeling a sense of powerlessness due to unexplained processes of suspension (Arthurton, 2007)(12). It may well be due to a “lack of decision-making power and disrespectful treatment based on of one’s status “ (Mullaly, 2007, pp.266)(13), that have found parents overwhelmed, ill informed and devastated by perceived power of school administrators (Arthurton, 2007). Parents have expressed feeling powerless in regards to the prescription and length suspension, punitive nature of the school system and express feelings of intimidation by school board administrators (Arthurton, 2007).  This form of powerlessness may contribute to feeling a “lack of authority with little opportunity to exercise their rights” (Young, 2000, pp. 43) (14). An equalization of power may exist within the formation of Bill 212, an amendment to the Safe Schools Act. 


Bill 212


Power is reformulated and seen as operating in small ways everyday through acts of resistance (Foucault, 2000)(15) and it is through the resistance of students, parents, legal clinics and community based agencies that a settlement was reached between the TDSB and the OHRC. The amended Act, Bill 212(16) came into effect February 1, 2008 (see OHRC website). Bill 212 promises to: consider mitigating factors; begin collecting race based statistics; encourages Principals to avoid suspensions until they have first applied less severe penalties and insures programming for students suspended five or more days (metro, 2005)(17).  Within Bill 212, students suspended five or more days, must be referred either to a TDSB program or community based program and receive academic and non-academic support that includes addressing the root causes of behaviours (Intro to Bill 212, 2007).  It is noted that since its inception, that a decrease of 0.29% in student suspensions has occurred (Toronto Star, 2007) (18). Within this amendment, responsibility lies with the student to abide by the Code of Conduct and with the Principal to ensure that all avenues have been explored and that a suspended student is offered support. The destruction of the Safe Schools Act is said to bring forth positive change as it employs sameness and encourages hope (Bauman, 2005) (19) that suspensions will be reduced and that the truth of suspension will be revealed. There is increased hope that Bill 212 will move disciplinary practices towards fairness and equity thereby eradicating the disproportionate impact on all students including racialized communities.



1.The Toronto District School Board –  http://www.tdsb.on.ca/_site/ViewItem.asp?siteid=196&menuid=907&pageid=702

2. http://schools.tdsb.on.ca/elizabethsimcoe/documents/safe%20school%20brochure.pdfThe             Toronto

3.  Byrd, B; Cameron, B; Hill, M; Kerr, M & McLeod, B. (2005). Understanding the Safe                             Schools Suspensions, Expulsions and Prevention Programs

4.  Safe Schools Action Team (2005). Safer Schools, Safer Communities.

5.  Safe and Caring Schools. (2005). What you need to know about suspensions.

6. Solomon, R & Palmer, H. (2004). Schooling in Babylon, Babylon in School: When Racial             Profiling and Zero Tolerance Converge. Canadian Journal of Educational             Administration & Policy

7. African Legal Clinic. (2002). Anti-Black Racism in Canada. A report on the Canadian             Government Compliance with the International Convention on the Elimination of all     forms of racial Discrimination.

 8. Gary Pieters- Africentric Research and Education Portal –             http://fcis.oise.utoronto.ca/¬gpieters/afrocentricschools/acsresearch.htm

9. The Ontario Human Rights Commission –

            www. ohrc. on.ca/ en/resources/news/NewsRelease.2006-05-23.0117825793/view.

10.Ruck & Wortley. (2002). Racial and ethnic minority high school student’s perceptions of             school disciplinary practices: A look at some Canadian findings. Journal of Youth             and Adolescence. New York. Volume 21(3). pp.185-195.

11. Henry & Tator. (2006). Racism in Canadian History. In Henry & Tator, The Colour of             Democracy: Racism in Canadian Society (pp 67-103). Thomson Canada Limited

12. Arthurton, K. (2007). St. Stephen’s Community House – Youth Program. Replay             Alternative Suspension Program. Program Evaluation. Unpublished manuscript.

13. Mullaly, R. (2007). Oppression: The focus of structural social work. In B. Mullaly, The

            new structural social work (pp 252-286). Don Mills: Oxford University Press.

14. Young, I.M. (2000). Five faces of oppression. In M.Adams (Eds.). Readings for Diversity             and Social Justice. (pp 35-49). New York: Routledge.

15. Foucault, M. (2000). The subject and power. In Faubion (Ed.), Michel Foucault: Power             (pp 326-348). New York: The New Press.

16.  Bill 212. An Act to amend the Education Act in respect of behaviour, discipline and             safety. Chapter 14 Statutes of Ontario, 2007. Retrieved on October 28,  2008.             http://www.ontla.on.ca/bills/bills-files/38_Parliament/Session2/b212ra.pdf

17. Toronto school board to ditch ‘zero tolerance’ policy. (2005, November, 14). The Metro, p.3.

18. The Toronto Star. (2008). Schools suspend fewer students. Retrieved on October 28,             2008.  www.thestar.com. pp. 1-2.

19. Bauman, Z. (2005). Education in liquid modernity The Review of Education, Pedagogy             and Cultural Studies, 27, pp. 303-317.



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