In what some consider a progressive move towards racial equity for Black students in the District of Columbia Public Schools (DCPS), Councilmember David Grosso (I-At-large) has introduced a bill to limit and, in some cases, end out-of-school suspensions and expulsions.
The Student Fair Access to School Act of 2017, according to the bill, would work to “disrupt the school-to-prison pipeline, increase school safety, and put every child in the best position to succeed.”
The bill limits out-of-school suspension for students in kindergarten through eighth grade for all but the most harmful offenses, which include physical and emotional harm to other students. For high school students there would be a ban on suspensions for minor incidents like disobedience or uniform violations.
“Despite the progress made over the past years, Black students in D.C. are 7 times more likely to be suspended than White students – that should outrage us all,” Grosso wrote in his introductory statement. “When those students are suspended, they are more likely to fail academically, to drop out, and to end up involved in the criminal justice system. This bill would require schools – both DCPS and charters – to have discipline policies that avoid exclusion, address bias, and seek the root causes of misbehavior.”
For former DCPS students like Anthony Mack, who said he went through a stint of fighting and being disobedient in school, Grosso’s desire to return to a student-friendly and student-centered system of discipline is necessary. “I spent a good amount of time in DCPS on suspension while in junior high, but there was a program called ‘In-School Suspension’ where I still had to show up at school,” Mack, a Ward 6 resident who attended Francis Jr. High School, told the AFRO. “I had a responsibility from which I was not absolved just because I wanted to be disobedient in class. In-school saved me from being on the street, getting into real trouble, and ensured that I turned in every single assignment that was required while I was being punished.”
Mack said that since so many young Washingtonians face real-life challenges, including homelessness, abuse, hunger and depression, the Student Fair Access to School Act could spell the difference between matriculation and dropping out.
There are currently five disciplinary tiers that determine whether a student receives an on‐site or off‐site suspension, according to the DCPS Student Discipline Policy.
Jeff Canady, a D.C. education reformer with We Act Radio concurred, said Grosso’s efforts move in the right direction, but should also work to determine how frustrations within the educational environment sometime promote misconduct, which can lead to suspension. “Suspensions and expulsions are signs the ecosystem in a school environment is unbalanced. School administrators should not be handed impossible reforms and then held accountable for implementing them; they should have wide latitude to make good judgments on what best suits the needs of the student and the school environment,” Canady told the AFRO. “In-school suspension is one of many techniques used to encourage students to modify behavior and become successful academically. The ultimate goal is to create a healthy environment for children and school staff.”
Grosso said he began researching other school districts and convened several working groups with education researchers, lawyers, and parents connected with charter, local education agencies, and public schools to draft the language. Other mandates of the legislation include: a ban on suspensions for absence/tardy instances, uniform violations, and purely behavioral incidents (i.e. willful defiance, etc.), as well as incidents that transpire off-campus. Student suspensions would be limited to 10 days or fewer consecutively, or fewer than 20 days cumulatively. Finally, schools must continue the education for students while they are suspended and have a reintegration plan for students to return successfully to school.