Friday, April 24, 2015

School Suspends Sixth Grader for a Year for Possessing Leaf Found Not to Be Marijuana

Japanesemapleleaf_thumbnailLast month Derek cited a study correlating higher student marijuana use to schools in which administrators reported using out-of-school suspensions and students reported low policy enforcement. That has not slowed the use of such policies in some districts, however, as the Roanoke Times reports that an eleven year old student was disciplined under circumstances that seem excessive even under zero tolerance policies. Acting on a student tip, an assistant principal at Bedford Middle School (VA) found a green leaf and a lighter in a plastic baggie in a sixth grader's backpack at school last fall. School resource officers from the sheriff’s office field-tested the leaf, which tested negative for marijuana. The student was nevertheless arrested and charged as a juvenile for marijuana possession. Two further tests of the leaf confirmed that it was not marijuana. That confirmation that the bag contained an ordinary leaf was not the end of the matter, however. An administrator told the student's parents that the juvenile's charge dismissal did not resolve the school's zero tolerance policies, and the student was suspended for a year. After sixth months of online education and homeschooling, the student was permitted to return to school (albeit a different school) under strict probationary terms. The student's parents, a current and a retired teacher, have sued the district and the Sheriff's Office for due process violations and for malicious prosecution. The case reportedly has been sent to mediation. Read more about the case here.

April 24, 2015 in Discipline, News | Permalink | Comments (0)

Thursday, April 23, 2015

Experimental Study Shows Teachers' Interpretation of Student Misbehavior Depends on Race

Jason A. Okonofua and Jennifer L. Eberhardt of Stanford University have published Two Strikes: Race and the Disciplining of Young Students, confirming what statistical analysis has long suggested: that whether and how a student is disciplined is heavily influenced by subconscious racial biases.  Their abstract explains:

There are large racial disparities in school discipline in the United States, which, for Black students, not only contribute to school failure but also can lay a path toward incarceration. Although the disparities have been well documented, the psychological mechanisms underlying them are unclear. In two experiments, we tested the hypothesis that such disparities are, in part, driven by racial stereotypes that can lead teachers to escalate their negative responses to Black students over the course of multiple interpersonal (e.g., teacher-to-student) encounters. More generally, we argue that race not only can influence how perceivers interpret a specific behavior, but also can enhance perceivers’ detection of behavioral patterns across time. Finally, we discuss the theoretical and practical benefits of employing this novel approach to stereotyping across a range of real-world settings.

Read the full study here.

April 23, 2015 in Discipline, Discrimination | Permalink | Comments (0)

Wednesday, April 22, 2015

Oklahoma City Superintendent Plans Broad Changes after Internal Audit of Disciplinary Practices

This February, the UCLA Civil Rights Project's school discipline study reported that Oklahoma City Public Schools district (OCPS) was one of the nation's ten higheshighest-suspending districts for secondary school students. Yesterday, OCPS Superintendent Rob Neu announced plans to reduce the district's 3,000 annual suspensions through behavior programs and by shortening the length of suspensions. Neu was responding to the results of the district's internal audit which confirmed some of the UCLA report's findings. That study noted that OCPS' suspension rate for minorities exceeded other districts surveyed, with 75 percent of African-American male high school students and 54 percent of African-American female high school students in the district suspended at least once in 2012, and 60 percent of Native American male and 40 percent Native American female high school suspended that year. Neu told the media that the district planned to respond to racial disparity in school suspensions by hiring more teachers and administrators of color and "become more culturally aware of the students that we’re serving.” Links to the OCPS audit are available here.

April 22, 2015 in Discipline, News | Permalink | Comments (0)

Thursday, April 16, 2015

Guns In Schools: A School Board Member Who Finally Says It Right

Florida is considering a bill that would allow teachers to carry concealed weapons at school.  The pros and cons of such bills have been rehearsed herehere, and here over the past several months.  I am glad to report that one Osceola School Board member, who also happens to be an attorney, finally states the issue in the most simple terms possible.  Sputnik News offers this summary:

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April 16, 2015 in Discipline | Permalink | Comments (0)

Monday, April 13, 2015

Where Do States Rank in the School to Prison Pipeline?

A new study by the Center for Public Integrity collected law enforcement referrals for public schools in all fifty states and the District of Columbia.  The variety across states was startling.    Ohio, Nevada, and D.C. only referred one percent of their students to law enforcement (1.9, 1.3, and 1.2 percent respectively).  Virginia topped the list, referring 15.8 percent of all students, which is 13 times the rate of D.C.  Six more states had rates above 10 percent.  

The analysis of sub-populations was also troubling.  Virginia referred 25 percent of its African American students (which is 16 times the rate of DC) and 33 percent of its disabled students--a number so high that one must wonder if there is an error in the data or if Virginia is under-identifying students with non-behavioral disabilities (which could skew the referral number upward).  Wyoming referred 32 percent of African Americans.  In short, the state-by-state comparisons show not all states find law enforcement to be a necessary aspect of school discipline, but others integrate it as part of their standard operating procedure.

April 13, 2015 in Discipline | Permalink | Comments (2)

Thursday, March 26, 2015

Suspensions Down and School Safety Climate Up in Chicago Public Schools

The University of Chicago Consortium on Chicago School Research has released its newest report on discipline in Chicago public schools.  The reports are monitoring the efficacy of Chicago's move away from harsh discipline toward more restorative justice practices.  It is not all good news, as suspension rates are still high, but the general trend is positive and discipline rates continue to fall. Alex Nitkin offers this summary:

[The report] found that students and teachers report feeling safer as harsh discipline practices have eased. That’s another good-news finding, since some observers feared that cutting arrests and suspensions would worsen school climate and security.

However, the report also notes that Chicago still has a lot of work to do to further reduce suspensions of young black men, who are still the most likely to be kicked out of school for discipline reasons. One-third of black males received an out-of-school suspension last year, compared to 13 percent of Latino boys and 6 percent of white and Asian boys.

Other Consortium findings:

    • Some schools are replacing out-of-school suspensions with in-school suspensions: Out-of-school suspensions for black male students declined by about 3 percent, while in-school suspensions rose by 7 percent. Most other groups also saw slight increases.
    • Most suspensions in high schools are handed down for “defiance,” with only a third the result of fights or other threats to safety. The report notes that with so few suspensions for physical altercations, schools probably have more room to cut suspensions without compromising safety—but teachers need training on how to deal with students they perceive as being disrespectful.
    • The overall arrest rate for high school and middle-grades students was 2 percent, but the rate for black males was double that, according to Chicago Police Department data analyzed by the Consortium. Schools called police for just 43 percent of serious incidents that require police notification under the district’s discipline code.

One troubling fact is that the Consortium still could not get access to complete discipline data from charter schools.  This missing data, of course, is also crucial to yesterday's post about comparing urban charters' academic achievement to that of traditional public schools.

March 26, 2015 in Discipline | Permalink | Comments (0)

Tuesday, March 24, 2015

Zero Tolerance and Harsh Discipline Increases Drug Use, New Study Finds

A steady stream of studies have demonstrated zero tolerance and harsh discipline policies do not achieve their goals.  They do not improve student behavior.  They do not make schools safer.  In some instances, they just make matters worse.  Those studies have tended to focus on the aggregate school climate.  A new study makes far more specific and shocking findings, so shocking that one might struggle to process them.

Tracy  Evans-Whipp and her co-authors' new study, Longitudinal Effects of School Drug Policies on Student Marijuana Use in Washington State and Victoria, Australia, finds that the:

Likelihood of student marijuana use was higher in schools in which administrators reported using out-of-school suspension and students reported low policy enforcement. Student marijuana use was less likely where students reported receiving abstinence messages at school and students violating school policy were counseled about the dangers of marijuana use.  

Suspending kids actually increased the odds of drug use by 60 percent-- even for kids who weren't suspended, but attended the school were suspension was the policy.  "That was surprising to us," said co-author Richard Catalano in a press release. "It means that suspensions are certainly not having a deterrent effect. It’s just the opposite." And according to Catalano and his colleagues, suspensions "related to unintended negative outcomes for the suspended student, such as disengagement from school, delinquency or antisocial behavior, smoking, and alcohol and drug use."

March 24, 2015 in Discipline | Permalink | Comments (0)

From Segregation to Incarceration

The Arkansas Law Review's symposium issue on education (presumably celebrating the 60th Anniversary of Brown v. Board of Education) is now available on westlaw.  The essays and articles offer a historical narrative spanning from segregation to current policies that divert funds and attention away from the education of poor and minority students to incarceration. Each is summarized below.

Peter C. Alexander, Seeking Educational Equality in the North: The Integration of the Hillburn School System​, 68 Ark. L. Rev. 13 (2015).

Peter Alexander, uses the example of his small hometown of Hillburn, NY to discuss the history of segregation and integration in the north. Alexander points out that "[m]uch attention has been paid to segregated schools in the South, but surprisingly little has been written about segregated schools that existed north of the Mason-Dixon Line." However, even racially-diverse, small northern towns like Hillburn, which has a population of only about 1000 people, had segregated schools. "Curiously, the local high school was in the neighboring village of Suffern, New York, and it was integrated; however, children in the Hillburn schools were divided by race until the ninth grade." Nevertheless, Hillburn was not unique in its decision to segregate. Alexander points out that neighboring counties in New York, as well as numerous districts in New Jersey, Pennsylvania, Ohio, and many more norther states had segregated school. "The reasons segregated schools existed outside of the South varied from community to community." For some districts, it made geographic sense to segregate, as was the case in Hillburn. Alexander also discusses how economic demographics came into play as a rationale for segregation. Throughout the article, Alexander uses Hillburn's journey from segregation to integration as an example of the challenges that many northern cities and towns faced when making that transition.

Ellen Marrus, Education in Black America: Is It the New Jim Crow?, 68 Ark. L. Rev. 27 (2015).

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March 24, 2015 in Discipline, Racial Integration and Diversity | Permalink | Comments (0)

Friday, March 20, 2015

Evidence Grows on the Efficacy of Ending Zero Tolerance

The Atlantic ran a story this week titled "Zeroing out Zero Tolerance."  Much of the article mediates the debate between "no-excuses" charter schools that believe a rigid approach to discipline has been the key to their academic success and large urban school districts that have recently abandoned zero tolerance policies.  Her story emphasizes the large gains in achievement and graduation that the nation's two largest school districts--New York City and Los Angeles--have achieved since ending zero tolerance for minor misbehavior.  The same is true of Denver, which was a front-runner in this change.  There is not much new in the story, but it does a better job than most in highlighting the issues and juxtaposing the relevant school systems.

March 20, 2015 in Charters and Vouchers, Discipline | Permalink | Comments (0)

Wednesday, March 11, 2015

UCLA Civil Rights Project Report: Are We Closing the School Discipline Gap?

Screen Shot 2015-03-11 at 5.59.48 PMUCLA's Center for Civil Rights Remedies at the Civil Rights Project has published Are We Closing the School Discipline Gap? by Daniel Losen, Cheri Hodson, Michael A. Keith II, Katrina Morrison, and Shakti Belway.  The report adds to the growing consensus that the use of out-of-school suspension are applied disproportionately "to students with disabilities and those from historically disadvantaged racial, ethnic, and gender subgroups." From the report's executive summary:
 
Nearly 3.5 million public school students were suspended out of school at least once in 2011-12.12. 
That is more than one student suspended for every public school teacher in America. This means that more students were suspended in grades K-12 than were enrolled as high school seniors. To put this in perspective, the number of students suspended in just one school year could fill all of the stadium seats for nearly all the Super Bowls ever played—(the first 45). Moreover, recent estimates are that one in three students will be suspended at some point between kindergarten and 12th grade (Shollenberger, 2015).

If we ignore the discipline gap, we will be unable to close the achievement gap. Of the 3.5 million students who were suspended in 2011-12, 1.55 million were suspended at least twice. Given that the average suspension is conservatively put at 3.5 days, we estimate that U.S. public school children lost nearly 18 million days of instruction in just one school year because of exclusionary discipline. Loss of classroom instruction time damages student performance. For example, one recent study (Attendance Works, 2014) found that missing three days of school in the month before taking the National Assessment of Educational Progress translated into fourth graders scoring a full grade level lower in reading on this test. New research shows that higher suspension rates are closely correlated with higher dropout and delinquency rates, and that they have tremendous economic costs for the suspended students (Marchbanks, 2015), as well as for society as a whole (Losen, 2015).  

March 11, 2015 in Discipline, Studies and Reports | Permalink | Comments (0)

Tuesday, March 10, 2015

DOJ’s Ferguson Report Also Finds Policing Problems in Schools by Josh Gupta-Kagan

With all of the attention on the Department of Justice's report into Ferguson policing, this blog's readers might be interested pages 37 and 38 of that report, which have largely escaped media attention.  The report concludes that Ferguson police officers serving as school resource officers (SROs) at a local middle and high school too often "treat routine discipline issues as criminal matters and [] use force when communication and de-escalation techniques would likely resolve the conflict."

DOJ reports two specific cases -- a ninth-grader charged with "Failure to Comply" when she refused to walk to the principal's office after a fight during class, and a middle schooler charged with the same offense when "the student refused to leave the classroom after getting into a trivial argument with another student."  Both cases involved African-American children.  The latter incident led to the officer using a Taser on the child, who was suspended for 180 days, in addition to his arrest and juvenile court charge.  DOJ concluded these arrests for petty offenses were not unique -- "As one SRO told s, the arrests he made during the 2013-14 overwhelming involved minor offenses -- Disorderly Conduct, Peace Disturbance, and Failure to Comply with instructions."  

DOJ took the SROs (and, implicitly, the schools) to task for several systemic problems.  They faulted the Ferguson Police Department and the Ferguson-Florissant School District for signing a MOU that "does not clearly define the SROs' role or limit SRO involvement in cases of routine discipline or classroom management.  Nor has FPD established such guidance for its SROs or provided officers with adequate training on engaging with youth in an educational setting." 

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March 10, 2015 in Discipline | Permalink | Comments (0)

Friday, March 6, 2015

Connecticut Sees Overall Decrease in Student Suspensions, But State BOE Concerned About Rise in Younger Students' Discipline Rates

Screen Shot 2015-03-06 at 8.12.59 AMThe Connecticut Board of Education released a presentation this week reporting an overall  reduction in the state's suspension and expulsion rate for K-12 students. The state BOE reports that the number of suspensions and expulsions was reduced by 17.1% over the last five years, from 127,000 in 2009-10 to 105,000 in 2013-14. Connecticut BOE officials expressed concern, however, about the rising suspension rate of children younger than 7-- about a ten percent increase in out-of-school suspensions for younger children in the 2012-13 school year. Connecticut BOE Chair Allan Taylor told The Hartford Courant, "The under 7 numbers remain astounding. It strikes me that if a kid is that difficult to deal with, then it's a reason to be providing intensive support. There is no evil intent in kindergarten students and it's hard to see how taking that kid away from the place where he could be getting help is going to improve that child's prospects." Racial differences in statewide suspension rates remained steady, with more than 15 percent of black students and over ten percent of Latino students suspended or expelled last school year compared with fewer than five percent of white students suspended or expelled. See the full presentation, courtesy of NPR, here.

March 6, 2015 in Discipline, News | Permalink | Comments (0)

Monday, March 2, 2015

Students Threatened with Suspension If Parents Do Not Attend a Meeting

Parents in Coleman A. Young Elementary in Detroit received letters last week indicating that the parents' children would be suspended if they did not attend a meeting at school.  Apparently, the school recently held a group meeting to discuss preparation for upcoming standardized tests. Attendance at the meeting was low, in part, because the meeting was during the work day.  This second meeting is to be during the work day as well, and  is for those parents who missed the first one.  

School officials have responded that the letter threatening suspension was sent by teachers, not the school district itself, and it was simply an attempt to convey the importance of the meeting and upcoming examinations.  I personally found the response, at least as reported by the media, as lukewarm.  It is rare that courts second guess discipline, but carrying out this type of threat would be clearly unconstitutional.  Suspending a student who has not engaged in any misbehavior would be entirely arbitrary and irrational and, thus, violate substantive due process.

March 2, 2015 in Discipline | Permalink | Comments (0)

Tuesday, January 27, 2015

Federal Class Action Suit Challenging Use of Pepper Spray in Schools Begins in Alabama

Last week, the trial of a federal class action lawsuit against Birmingham police challenging officers' use of pepper spray on students in eight of the city's nine high schools. The suit alleges that Birmingham police, serving as school resource officers, used Freeze + P, a spray made up of Orthochlorobenzalmalonitrile (CS) and Oleoresin Capsicum (OC), that causes “strong respiratory effects" and "severe pain" to break up fights, to disburse bystanders, and to spray students who were verbally disrespectful but not physically violent. The plaintiffs are represented by the Southern Poverty Law Center. Commenting on the suit, a SPLC attorney told the Marshall Project, “We have not been able to locate a school district anywhere that uses chemical spray in the way that Birmingham does, meaning on a routine basis." Interestingly, the lead defendant, Police Chief A.C. Roper, might agree in principle, as he told the Birmingham News in 2009 that the school system has "over-relied on our officers, and our officers have responded ... The current system is dysfunctional, and that's putting it mildly." The complaint is available on the SPLC's website here.

January 27, 2015 in Cases, Discipline | Permalink | Comments (0)

Monday, January 12, 2015

From Zero Tolerance to Weapons Instruction

South Carolina legislators have put forth two bills to require gun safety and Second Amendment curriculum in schools.  Putting aside the fact that South Carolina's school system was declared constitutionally inadequate this winter, these bills are hard to appreciate.  First, while it is important for state legislatures' to lead on education issues, rather than devolving all discretion to local school districts, anytime any one toys with the curriculum for political purposes it creates educational and legal problems.  See here, here, here, and here.  As I teach educational law each year, I often remind my students that we see so many religion and speech cases in education because adults cannot seem to help themselves from using education as their playground.

Second, one of the sponsors of the bill said he was prompted to write it after learning of a local student who was suspended and arrested over a story he wrote for class about shooting a dinosaur. This, says the legislature, was a travesty under both the First and Second Amendments. He is probably correct about the former.  (See here for my earlier post on the suspension.)  If there was any reason to believe that weapons curriculum might mitigate the use of zero tolerance policies against students, the bill might be innovative.  But the more obvious solution would seem to be to address zero tolerance policies themselves or train teachers on students' First Amendment rights.

January 12, 2015 in Discipline, First Amendment | Permalink | Comments (0)

Friday, December 12, 2014

The Intersection of Race and Gender Bias in Discipline

For those who missed it, the New York Times ran a story Wednesday on discipline disparities for African American females, telling the experience of two young African American girls.  The first was described by teachers as very focused, but after she and a white friend scribbled some words on a bathroom stall, things fell apart.  Her part was to write the word  "hi."  The school's response was to suspend her, accuse her of vandalism and demand $100 in restitution.  When her family said it could not pay that amount, she received a visit from a police officer, who served her with papers accusing her of a trespassing misdemeanor and, potentially, a felony.  The final result was a summer on probation, a 7 p.m. curfew, 16 hours of community service, and a letter of apology.  Her friend was able to pay restitution and escaped juvenile justice consequences.  Most poignant, however, was the emotional harm and anxiety that she experienced (as well as the girl in the second story).  One girl's mother called it the equivalent of child abuse.

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December 12, 2014 in Discipline, Discrimination | Permalink | Comments (0)

Monday, December 8, 2014

ABA School to Prison Pipeline Town Hall Forum

The Criminal Justice Section, Council for Racial and Ethnic Diversity in the Education Pipeline, and the Hispanic National Bar Association are hosting a town hall forum, The School-to-Prison Pipeline: What Are the Problems? What Are the Solutions? on February 6, 2015 in Houston.

To register, click on link to obtain Town Hall registration form at www.ambar.org/corej. Register for 2015 ABA Houston Midyear at ambar.org. For more information about the School-to-Pipeline initiative, visit the above website or contact Rachel Patrick, Director, ABA Coalition on Racial & Ethnic Justice at Rachel.Patrick@americanbar.org or (312) 988-5408. 

December 8, 2014 in Conferences, Discipline | Permalink | Comments (0)

Friday, November 21, 2014

New Report Ranks Massachusetts Among the Worst for Racial Disparities in Discipline, and Its Charters Schools the Worst of the Worst

The Boston-based Lawyers' Committee for Civil Rights and Economic Justice has released a new report on school discipline in the state, Not Measuring Up: The State of School Discipline in Massachusetts.  The report makes four major findings:

1. Massachusetts' students missed a minimum of 208,605 days in the classroom due to disciplinary removal. During the 2012-13 school year, Massachusetts’ public school students were suspended (in-school and out-of-school), expelled, and removed to an alternative setting a combined 128,599 times. These punishments resulted in at least 208,605 days - the equivalent of 1,160 students missing the entire school year - during which students were removed from their regular classrooms.

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November 21, 2014 in Charters and Vouchers, Discipline | Permalink | Comments (1)

Thursday, November 20, 2014

One District's Rationale for Isolation

As a followup to yesterday's post on isolation practices, the explanation another district for its isolation rooms is worth noting.  The Center Consolidated School District, Colorado, has been using isolated study in 4 foot by 6 foot rooms as an alternative punishment to expulsion for ten years. The district reasons that isolation is preferable to classroom disruption or school exclusion.  The former harms other students.  The latter harms the disciplined student and the school, based on the likely effects on dropout rates. According to the superintendent, parents are given the choice between expulsion and isolation, in which students will be provided study materials. During the last 10 years, about 40 students have been placed in isolation and, over the last year alone, the dropout rate plummeted from 13% to less than 2%.

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November 20, 2014 in Discipline, Special Education | Permalink | Comments (0)

Wednesday, November 19, 2014

District Places 800 Elementary Students in Isolation Rooms in One Year: Theorizing Causes

According to a four month investigation by local news sources, Mansfield Independent School District in Texas put elementary school students in isolation rooms on 800 different occasions last year.  The district's documents refer to the rooms as “blue rooms,” “recovery rooms,” “calm rooms,” and “isolation centers.”  The districts intends to no longer use the latter term.  Records also indicate that some students are placed in the room "for the remainder of the day," which begs the question of how long students are kept in the rooms.  Equally disturbing, state law does not require that the schools notify parents of the isolation and, thus, this may breaking news to some.

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November 19, 2014 in Discipline, Special Education | Permalink | Comments (0)