While individual school districts, such as San Francisco and Madison have moved forward in ridding themselves of antiquated zero tolerance school discipline policies, in order for our nation to move away from continuing reports of high rates of discipline overall and racial and disability disproportionality in that discipline, states must adopt progressive school discipline laws. Both Colorado and Massachusetts have done so.
Colorado’s law went into effect in 2012 and now data is coming in which shows a marked decrease in school discipline as follows:
- Expulsions down 25%
- Suspensions down 10%
- Law Enforcement referrals down 9%
- Racial disparities decreased 3-7% (depending on the category)
Work on racial disparities still needs to be done in Colorado as law enforcement referrals went up for African-American students by 8% and for Native American students by 3% in the 2012-13 school year. The entire report analyzing the initial impact of this law can be found here.
Massachusetts passed Chapter 222 of its Acts to improve the education of students who are disciplined in 2012, and its State Board of Education just adopted regulations which will implement the law effective July 1, 2014 at 603 CMR 53. Since Massachusetts’ law is not in effect yet, there is no data available for its impact, but its provisions are worth consideration for other states who want to end the funneling of students into the school to prison pipeline.
Some of the key provisions of the new Massachusetts law, as summarized by Massachusetts Advocates for Children, are:
- Students suspended for 10 or fewer consecutive days, whether in or out of school, shall have an opportunity to make academic progress during the period of suspension, to make up assignments and earn credits missed, including but not limited to homework, quizzes, exams, papers and projects missed
- Principals shall develop a school-wide education service plan for all students excluded for more than 10 consecutive school days, whether in or out of school. Principals shall ensure that these students have an opportunity to make academic progress during the period of exclusion, to make up assignments and earn credits missed, including but not limited to homework, quizzes, exams, papers and projects missed.
- Education service plans may include, but are not limited to: tutoring, alternative placement, Saturday school, and online or distance learning. Schools shall provide the student and the parent or guardian with a list of alternative educational services. Upon selection of an alternative educational service by the student and parent or guardian, the school shall facilitate and verify enrollment in the service.
- Instructional costs of alternative educational services may be eligible for state reimbursement.
- If the student moves to another school district during the period of exclusion, the new district shall either admit the student or provide educational services in an education service plan.
- For each school that excludes a significant number of students for more than 10 cumulative days in a school year, the commissioner shall investigate and, as appropriate, shall recommend models that incorporate intermediary steps prior to the use of exclusion.
- School officials, when deciding the disciplinary consequences for a student, shall exercise discretion for non-serious offenses, consider ways to re-engage the student in the learning process, and avoid using expulsion as a consequence until other remedies and consequences have been employed.
- The principal or designee shall notify the superintendent of an exclusion imposed on a student enrolled in kindergarten through grade 3 prior to such suspension taking effect, describing the alleged misconduct and reason for exclusion.
- A student who has been excluded for more than 10 school days for a single infraction or for more than 10 school days cumulatively for multiple infractions in any school year shall have the right to appeal to the superintendent.
- No student shall be excluded for a time period that exceeds 90 school days.
Massachusetts’ new law also addresses drop outs, as follows.
- Schools shall have a pupil absence notification program, designed to notify a parent or guardian if the school has not received notification of an absence from the parent or guardian within 3 days of the absence. Schools shall have a policy of notifying the parent or guardian if the student has at least 5 days in which the student has missed 2 or more periods unexcused in a school year or has missed 5 or more school days unexcused in a school year. The principal or designee shall make a reasonable effort to meet with the parent or guardian who has 5 or more unexcused absences to develop action steps for student attendance.
- No student who has not graduated from high school shall be considered to have permanently left public school unless the school administrator has sent notice within a period of 5 days from the student’s 10th consecutive absence to the student and parent or guardian in the primary language of the parent or guardian and English, initially offering at least 2 dates and times for an exit interview between the superintendent or designee and the student and parent or guardian. The exit interview shall be for the purpose of discussing the reasons for the student permanently leaving school and to consider alternative education or other placements. During the exit interview, the student shall be given information about the detrimental effects of early withdrawal from school, the benefits of earning a high school diploma and the alternative education programs and services available to the student.
Colorado and Massachusetts are leading the way to end the alarmingly high and discriminatory suspension rates occurring throughout the nation. Which states will follow suit to end their schools to prison pipelines?
For more information on how I can help you accomplish effective, progressive systems change contact Jeff Spitzer-Resnick by visiting his website: Systems Change Consulting.