A parent group is raising concerns about the rising number of suspensions at the regional high school.

Spokesmen for the group calling itself ACROSS (A Committee to Reduce Out of School Suspensions) appeared before the district school committee Monday night.

In a statement, representative Suzy Cosgrave said more than eight per cent of high school students received out-of-school suspensions this year, up from 4.8 per cent last year.

“This trend is one that cannot continue. We need clear directives from the school committee in order to stop this push away from the school setting for students who live on our Island,” she said.

Ms. Cosgrave, a parent of two high schoolers, cited research that shows out-of school suspensions are ineffective in helping students reach their educational goals.

She also said the regional high school’s numbers are higher than the state average of 2.9 per cent. Numbers for incidents of violence, meanwhile, are lower than the state average.

“I believe that MVRHS belongs to all of us on this Island. It is my school and it is your school. Most of all it is our students’ school, and they belong in the classroom,” Ms. Cosgrave said. She was joined by about a dozen other group members.

Data provided by school administrators at the meeting showed there were 54 out-of-school suspensions this school year. More than 20 were for possession of a vaping device or paraphernalia. Fifteen were for behavioral issues. Eight were for possession of a controlled substance. The percentage of students suspended at the high school has increased in recent years, but not to unprecedented levels. The numbers have varied since 2012, spiking at 8.4 per cent in 2013-2014 and falling to 1.9 per cent in 2015-2016.

Superintendent of schools Dr. Matthew D’Andrea said part of the increase can be attributed to the vaping trend that has swept through schools across the country, alarming public health officials, educators and parents alike.

“Vaping is something that caught us off guard,” Mr. D’Andrea said of the e-cigarette craze. The nicotine devices were supposedly conceived as a way to help adult smokers quit smoking, but they rapidly gained popularity among younger users.

The superintendent said while there is always room for improvement, he strongly backed the discipline policies of principal Sara Dingledy and her administration. Mr. D’Andrea said when Ms. Dingledy was hired in 2016 he charged her with changing the culture at the high school. Among other things, she revised the student handbook and code of conduct, created a clearer attendance policy and outlined tiered consequences for different offenses. Last year she hired a new administrator of student affairs, Dhakir Warren.

“There were many challenges around the structure of this building,” Mr. D’Andrea said, describing the school culture Ms. Dingledy had inherited from previous administrators. “There were students wandering the halls during classes, students in bathrooms congregating, students leaving the building, students on their phones constantly,” he continued. “When I hired Sara, I tasked her with, we have to bring structure to this building. The momentum of this building was going in a direction that was going to lead to real problems, and turning it around is a monumental effort, and I’ll tell you, this building is safer. As a parent and a superintendent, I am pleased with the direction this school is going.”

Ms. Dingledy also defended the data on discipline. She noted that while the numbers exceed the state average, they are in line with the numbers of similar schools.

“I’m happy to look at data and to share it and I think we should kind of peel back the onion and see what sort of measures we are hoping to do,” the principal said. “A lot of the changes we’ve made in the last 18 months I’m hoping will bear out in the data that we see.”

For example, she said incidents of vaping decreased between the first and second semesters this year.

And she echoed the concerns about the troubling e-cigarette trend. Students who come forward for addiction support are not penalized at the high school, Ms. Dingledy said.

“We’re not talking about vaping out of school [as a discipline issue], we’re talking about vaping in the building during the school day — that that is a behavior that if there is no perceived risk we have seen it becomes a pervasive part of our culture,” she said.