This article was originally published in The Notebook. In August 2020, The Notebook became Chalkbeat Philadelphia.
The Notebook has a content-sharing agreement with Education Week, where this piece originally appeared. Last week, the School Reform Commission revised the District’s Student Code of Conduct to prohibit the use of out-of-school suspension for several low-level offenses. Randi Weingarten of the American Federation of Teachers supports the initiative.
By Nirvi Shah Several national groups are asking school districts to stop suspending students out of school and replace this form of discipline with what they consider to be "more constructive" approaches that benefit students, teachers, and communities.
The New York-based Dignity in Schools Campaign launched its call for a moratorium on out-of-school suspension at a gathering in Los Angeles on Tuesday, joined by more than 50 other groups.
They cited a growing body of research and data that shows the disproportionate use of suspension, in which black and Latino students and students with disabilities are more likely to be suspended and more likely to be punished harshly compared to other students for the same infractions. The research also shows the connection between school punishment and students entering the juvenile justice system. The groups said students who need to spend the most time in class are losing it at an alarming rate.
"At a time when we should be expanding learning opportunities for all young people, we are cutting classroom time for those who need it most," said Jermaine Banks, a student organizer with Power U Center for Social Change in Miami, in a statement. "The harsh discipline policies now in place around the country do not make schools safer nor improve academic achievement, but instead feed the school-to-prison pipeline."
Some researchers argue that discipline data is incorrectly used as a measure of school safety and doesn’t actually contribute to the security of a school campus.
The groups have created a website, stopsuspensions.org, which asks district leaders to sign a pledge for a year not to suspend students out of school.
At the same time, Dignity in Schools launched a "Model Code on Education and Dignity" that they hope schools will adopt as an alternative to zero-tolerance discipline policies that rely heavily on out-of-school suspensions and expulsions to address student behavior.
"If we know there are alternatives out there, … we would be foolish to not try them," said Tina Dove, the director of programs for the National Opportunity to Learn Campaign, which is endorsing the moratorium. "Ultimately the goal should be… keeping kids in the school house and not in the jailhouse. It’s just that simple."
She pointed to a case this month in which the federal Department of Justice found that the Meridian school district in Mississippi had contributed to the "school-to-prison pipeline" because the city police agency arrests all students referred to it by the district. "The children arrested by [the Meridian Police Department] are then sent to the county juvenile justice system, where existing due process protections are illusory and inadequate. The Youth Court places children on probation, and the terms of the probation set by the Youth Court and [the Mississippi Division of Youth Services] require children on probation to serve any suspensions from school incarcerated in the juvenile detention center," the DOJ wrote in a letter to the agencies.
"No one could dare look me in the face and say ‘That’s acceptable,’" said Dove, a former high school teacher. "It truly says we have gone off the edge. It’s an indicator of how far gone this is in some places."
At a recent conference hosted by the Office of Safe and Healthy Students, Lafayette Parish, La., Superintendent Patrick Cooper said that his district has eliminated essentially all out-of-school suspensions and expulsions in his 30,500-student district.
"We’re not going to put you out there," Cooper said. "Everything the research is saying is about connections with people."
In a statement today, American Federation of Teachers President Randi Weingarten said her organization supports the initiative and will establish a leadership committee to lead the union’s response.
"Many of our affiliates are already engaged in this work," she said. To support their efforts, the AFT will establish a leadership committee to lead the union’s response, survey affiliates to gain a greater understanding of their school and community needs to target support, and collaborate with Solutions Not Suspensions and other stakeholders on policy decisions regarding discipline, among other things.