I read with interest a recent article about the declining enrollment at Virginia two- and four-year colleges and universities ("Where the students are," Feb. 7 news story). The states public high schools granted 49,324 advanced degrees and 35,783 standard diplomas last year. However, only 48,115 of those graduates went directly to Virginia colleges and universities.

So where are these students? I know there is not just one answer to this question. However, I think the fact that Virginia leads the nation in suspensions and expulsions of students is part of the answer. Too many Virginia students are swept off the path towards graduation when they are excluded from school due to suspension or expulsion, a punishment that does little to improve behavior or school climate. The vast majority of suspensions were issued for nonviolent, relatively minor misbehavior — approximately half of the underlying incidents involved cell phones, disruption, insubordination, defiance or disrespect.

Appropriate behaviors need to be taught, and students need to be in school to learn. Suspensions were disproportionately issued to male students, African-American students, and students with disabilities. At least 25 school divisions suspended between 25 percent and 40 percent of their African-American students with disabilities. Even the youngest students are not spared, there are over thousands of elementary school children that are suspended every year in Virginia.

If our kids are not in school to receive basic elementary and secondary education, then it is little wonder that seats in our two and four your institutions of higher learning remain unfilled. You have an opportunity to change this, our legislature is currently debating making changes to state laws. HB 1534 would limit long term suspension from our current maximum of 365 days to 90 days. HB 1536 would limit suspension of elementary students to no more than five days. This is something we should all agree on, kids need to be in school to learn! These bill were sponsored by two Republicans, Senator Stanley and Delegate Bell, and it is time for you to ask your local representatives to support these bills. Take the time to call them now.

MAKUNDA ABDUL-MBACKE

AXTON

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