A National Call to Stop Using Out-of-School Suspensions
By Tim Walker
Students, educators, parents, and community leaders have launched a national call for a moratorium on out-of-school suspensions and for schools to adopt more constructive disciplinary policies that benefit students, classrooms and communities.
The Solutions Not Suspensions initiative, announced last Tuesday at an event led by the Dignity in Schools Campaign (DSC) and the Opportunity to Learn Campaign in Los Angeles, comes on the heels of a series of reports exposing the dramatic racial disparities in school suspensions. Earlier this year, the Department of Education’s Office for Civil Rights’ survey found that Black students are more than three-and-a-half times as likely as white students to be suspended or expelled, In addition, more than 70 percent of students arrested in school were Black or Hispanic. Civil rights advocates have long argued that these punitive actions only exacerbate the achievement gap, contribute to high dropout rates and increase the likelihood of student arrests and referrals to the juvenile justice system.
“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, a Miami, FL-based education and social justice organization. “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.”
The Solutions Not Suspensions campaign is just the latest sign that the tide may be turning against zero tolerance discipline policies. In June, both the Maryland and Michigan boards of education resolved to rethink their discipline policies in order to decrease suspensions. Major counties in California, Colorado, Texas, Virginia, North Carolina and Delaware are also considering discipline reform.
Advocates believe a moratorium will provide a much-needed time out so that educators and community leaders can work with school boards and state legislators to try out proven alternatives to out-of school-suspensions that hold students accountable in constructive ways.
“We believe that by putting in place a moratorium, we can work together towards a vision that transforms the educational outcomes of our neighborhoods and cities in a positive way,” Eddie Madison, a parent organizer with Community Asset Development Redefining Education (CADRE), a South Los Angeles-based parent organization and a member of the Dignity in Schools Campaign.
As part of the initiative, partners have launched a website that will serve as a clearinghouse for information on effective alternatives to suspension, and give supporters an opportunity to sign onto the moratorium pledge. The Dignity in Schools Campaign has also released a set of model school discipline policies that provide guidelines to help districts and schools implement the moratorium and phase in positive alternatives.
The initiative will be supporting communities around the country to identify opportunities for implementing positive, student-centered policies. Additionally, they are offering support to schools and districts, based on the best practices and experiences of the parents, students and educators trained in alternative discipline practices like Restorative Justice and Positive Behavior Intervention Supports.
“Every child has a right to a quality education and equal opportunity to reach their full potential. Schools should be a place for young people to learn, not just basic math, language and science but also positive life-lessons learned both from their successes and mistakes,” Madison said.