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Public gatherings discuss impact of disciplinary policies

This article was originally published in The Notebook. In August 2020, The Notebook became Chalkbeat Philadelphia.

Education Not Incarceration-Delaware Valley is holding a series of public gatherings on the “school-to-prison” pipeline, including discussion about school climate and zero-tolerance policies.

A panel discussion at the second gathering in January addressed the origins of zero tolerance and student rights in the disciplinary process.

Sheila Simmons, education director of Public Citizens for Children and Youth, recalled the impact of the attacks at Columbine High School in 1999 and the 1995 adoption of Pennsylvania’s Act 26, which defined zero-tolerance weapons offenses.

David Lapp of the Education Law Center took participants through the steps of the disciplinary process, and explained requirements for parental notification and translation of documents when needed. He said that schools have broad authority in what incidents they can punish students for, pointing out that an incident in school or with a “substantial connection” to school can be pursued.

Student activists from Youth United for Change described how school discipline affected their school experience. Ebony Baylis, a member of YUC’s new pushout chapter, said, “After a time, it becomes harder and harder to hold out for a change, and that’s how you begin to feel pushed out.”

Members of Philadelphia Student Union said that supports for students would help improve school climate, and told of their organizing work to advocate for those changes.

Lapp said, “Kids who are in a place they want to be in will eliminate a lot of the problems” with school climate.

Small group discussions concluded that to make schools student-friendly places requires getting at the root causes of the problem and tackling larger, systemic issues; inconsistent rules and enforcement; an overemphasis on testing; and schools’ disconnect from their communities.

To learn more about ENI-DV or get involved, email ednotinc.dv@gmail.com.

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