Wednesday, November 27, 2013

ACLU Issues Report on Zero Tolerance in Pennsylvania

The ACLU of Pennsylvania released its new report on school discipline in the state, Beyond Zero Tolerance.  It found that about 10 out of school suspensions “were issued for every 100 students in the 2011–2012 school year. During 2009–2010, 1 out of every 15 students was suspended from school at least once.”  Black students were “almost five times more likely to be suspended than White students,” and Latinos three times more likely than whites.  African Americans with disabilities were at the highest risk, with 22 out of 100 receiving a suspension.  The report's website page also includes helpful information for local communities, posting the discipline and law enforcement data for each district.

The report’s recommendations for reform were:

1. Conduct school-level and district-level reviews of out-of-school suspension as well as law enforcement referral practices. Such reviews should identify which students are most likely to be impacted as well as specific schools where the differences in suspension rates for different types of students (the “suspension gap”) is greatest. Pay special attention to disciplinary actions for broad and vague behavioral categories such as disruption, disorderly conduct, and defiant behavior. Investigate disparities, and adopt corrective measures.

2. Remove students from school only when there is a real and immediate safety threat to the school community. School removal should not be permitted for minor misbehavior (such as dress-code violations).

3. Revise district codes and school-level rules to minimize the disruption in students’ continued access to education. When students must be removed from a classroom or school, establish a learning plan for them.

4. Examine district practices regarding the punishment of students with disabilities where discipline rates are disproportionately high for this group. Make sure that reviews are being conducted to determine whether the behavior was due to the disability (manifestation reviews) and that students are provided Individualized Education Plans.

5. Embrace alternative strategies that have been demonstrated to improve school climate. Promote individualized strategies of positive intervention, rather than punishment. Examples include School-Wide Positive Behavior Supports, restorative practices, and social and emotional learning programs. School districts are required to develop agreements, called Memoranda of Understanding (MOU), with law enforcement agencies that establish protocols for interactions between police and schools, and the state Board of Education has approved a model MOU. One noteworthy provision of Pennsylvania’s model permits school officials to “consider the propriety of utilizing available school-based programs, such as school-wide positive behavior supports, to address the student’s behavior.” We consider this to be a positive approach, one that should be embraced by more districts.

6. Revise the Annual Safe Schools Reports to include information on the number of students suspended and arrested, separated by race, disability, gender, and reason. Also, mandate that arrest data contained in PDE reports be accurate and consistent with reports sent to the U.S. Department of Education.

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