Trauma Informed Care Cuts Out-of-School Suspension Rates

“I always hate blaming a school because they can’t help who walks through the door,” Fred Schrumpf, Director of Community Partnerships for Spokane Public Schools, recently told the Spokesman Review in a front page article on new approaches to student discipline. Alarmed by Spokane’s high dropout rate, which floated around 30% five years ago, Schrumpf and others began looking at alternative approaches to student discipline.

Empire Health Foundation partnered with Schrumpf and Rogers High School to educate teachers in trauma-informed curriculum. Adverse Childhood Experiences (ACEs), such as abuse or neglect are the second greatest predictor after special education status of health outcomes, behavior and academic failure. If we fail to equip teachers with the tools and education they need to understand how a student’s trauma is likely the root cause of their emotional and behavioral needs, the toxic stress presents a huge barrier to these young folk’s academic success.

Teachers at "Help for Billy” book study

Teachers at "Help for Billy” book study

Through the partnership, Rogers staff has been exposed to a series of professional development opportunities including training by Sound Discipline, Circle of Security and a 6-week “Help for Billy” book study led by Schrumpf among other interventions. As one teacher said, "I really learned strategies to work with the students in my class and how to help them regulate." In the 2015 – 2016 academic school year, Rogers saw a 42% decrease in out-of-school suspension, and the overall rate of disciplinary incidents dropped by 32%. "This work is very much needed at this time in education,” said another teacher, “I love it. Can we have more of this training?"

Projects like these and others led by Spokane Public Schools helped to nearly halve the dropout rate to 15.5% in 2015, but Spokane’s discipline rate was also the highest in the state that year with near 8% of students suspended or expelled. There is much more work to be done. Transforming our region into the best place for young people to learn starts in nurturing healthy homes as well as schools. Our subsidiaries Rising Strong and FIN are working to reduce ACEs upstream by keeping families united, and Empire Health Foundation remains committed to mitigating the effects of complex trauma in our community.