A recent U.S. Department of Education report noted a rising tide of civil rights complaints in school systems nationwide. It gave credence to the voices, both political and grassroots, that are calling for a more enlightened and unbiased way of disciplining students.
Suspended Progress, a newly released joint report by the JustChildren Program and the Legal Aid Justice Center, adds more evidence to the chorus calling for change. The organizations advocate for alternatives to suspensions and expulsions, which many believe are ineffective disciplinary tools that ultimately contribute to students failing to graduate high school.
They examined the 2014-2015 school year disciplinary outcome data from Virginia’s school districts. Approximately 70,000 individual students received more than 126,000 out of school suspensions across the state.
According to the study, the vast majority of suspensions, which have trended up in Virginia over the past two years, “were issued for non-violent, relatively minor” offenses. About half of the suspensions involved things like cell phone use, insubordination, or disruption.
“Perhaps most nonsensically, 670 suspensions were issued for attendance. In other words, students were sent home from school for skipping class or not coming to school,” the report pointed out.
The report also uncovered disparities. Although African-American students comprise 23 percent of the state’s student population, they represented 58 percent of short-term suspensions, 60 percent of long-term suspensions, and 55 percent of expulsions.
Black students were on average nearly four times more likely to be suspended than White students.
Equally troubling, the report found that students with disabilities received more than twice the percentage of at least one short-term suspension compared to students without disabilities. Moreover, at least 25 school districts suspended 25 percent to 40 percent of their Black male students with disabilities.
Like many other school districts nationwide, those in Virginia were harsh on the youngest students who committed an infraction. The study said more than 20 percent of suspensions went to elementary school students. Among that group were about 16,000 pre-kindergarteners through third-graders.
St. Louis Public Schools decided to ban out-of-school suspensions of preschool through second-grade students and instead provide counseling. The new approach came after a report revealed that Missouri leads the nation in suspending Black elementary school students.
The Virginia-based organizations issued eight recommendations. They include urging state education officials to issue guidelines for the use of proven alternatives to suspension; the organization also called on state lawmakers to fund implementation of those alternative approaches.
Additionally, the report suggested that school districts involve a coalition of stakeholders (such as, community advocates, parents, teachers and administrators) in school discipline matters.
SOURCE: Justice4All.org | PHOTO CREDIT: Getty