The Persistence of the School to Prison Pipeline

Recently, a local reporter contacted me to comment on a case in which a 16-year-old African-American boy with disabilities, who was a sophomore at Madison West High School, and under Dane County Juvenile Court monitoring when he ran away from home. While he was gone, the student’s home detention court monitor in charge of checking up on his school attendance and behavior, asked West High’s dean of students to write a letter to the court about him. The letter characterized the student as a troublemaker who was a bad influence on other students.

As the front page story stated, the dean of students’ letter to the court opened with the following statement, “I write because I think (the student’s) transfer here from (a suburban high school) has ultimately not been good for him and frankly not good for West.” Despite this statement, the boy had not been expelled. The boy’s mother believes that letter resulted in her son being ordered to remain in juvenile detention for another 3 weeks.

As if the dean of students’ letter did not cause enough harm to the boy, according to the newspaper report, “the court commissioner decided to extend the student’s detention, referencing “impulsiveness” described in his individualized education plan (IEP) and the need to come up with a plan to address it.”

I did not represent this student, but due to my background in school discipline and special education matter, the reporter contacted me, and as she reported, I told her that I had never heard of an IEP being used in court to detain a student. I went on to say that this scenario:

is a direct example of the “school to prison pipeline,” the idea that students — particularly children of color and students with disabilities — are pushed out of school into the criminal justice system due to discriminatory discipline practices, lack of resources to support students with special needs, police in schools and other methods.

“In (this example) you’ve got an administrator contacting the juvenile justice authorities about what’s going on in school, and you’ve got an IEP being used against a child.

“You see that children of color and children with disabilities are disproportionately represented in the school to prison pipeline… It is disturbing that we even have such a thing in our society. Schools should be designed not to end up incarcerating children but to educate them.”

The question, of course, is why the school to prison pipeline continues to persist. Many advocates have been fighting against it and while some reductions in suspensions rates have occurred, the trend lines in Milwaukee, Wisconsin’s largest school district are troubling.

In the 2015-16 school year (the most recent data available), Milwaukee Public Schools (MPS) suspended:

  • 10,267 students or 13.6% of all its students up from 10.6% the year before;
  • 8,227 African-American students or 20.3% of those students;
  • 436 White students or 4.4% of those students;
  • 3,044 students with disabilities or 19.7% of those students;
  • 7,223 students without disabilities or 12% of those students.

Thus, a disproportionately high number of MPS suspensions are of African-American students and students with disabilities.

Racine, which is the 5th largest school district in Wisconsin, had the second highest number of suspensions in Wisconsin that year. That school district suspended:

  • 2,151 students or 11.2% of all its students up from 9.5% the year before;
  • 1,292 African-American students or 25.5% of those students;
  • 395 White students or 5% of those students; and
  • for reasons that are unclear, Racine has not reported the number of its suspended students who have disabilities.

Despite lacking the disability information, the Racine data reveals the troubling trend of racial disproportionality in school discipline.

As this ACLU infographic shows, this is not an isolated problem, as the national data on the school to prison pipeline continues to persist.

090116-sttp-graphic

In the Madison case, the newspaper report concluded with a bit of good news. The dean of students who wrote the damning letter to the court conceded that:

“As an educator, I need to be an advocate for our students, and in this instance, I fell short. There isn’t any excuse for that, and I recognize the negative impact it had on this young person’s life,” she said. “I am learning from it, and I am committed to supporting and serving all students going forward.”

Moreover, the boy has since left West and enrolled in an alternative program in the district. Although his mother said she will have trouble ever trusting the district again, she told the reporter that her son is already doing better in the new environment.

“He really likes it,” she said.

When I sent a friend the article in which I am quoted, he noted the good news at the end of the article, but then he went on to say,

“Maybe this is the heart of things. Instead of focusing on a student’s needs for a smaller alternative program to further his education, it got framed as needing to protect the school from a dangerous student. In the name of “school safety,” we’re willing to harm individual kids-disproportionately kids of color and with disabilities. I think this is how Madison does racism. We never use the language of it but the impacts are just as bad.

While the persistence of the school to prison pipeline may have many reasons, one common theme is the persistence of racism and discrimination against students with disabilities. Until we tackle those issues, improved policies alone will not solve the problem.

____________________________________________________________________________________________

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.

Advertisements

5 Million Children

Yesterday, I joined over 400 people who attended Madison Urban Ministry‘s (MUM) Partner’s for Change luncheon, to celebrate all that MUM has accomplished to bring justice to our community, including:

community-based solutions (that) invest in residence, employment, support, transportation and education that reduce recidivism and reconnect returning prisoners with their families and neighborhoods. Since 2006, the two-year recidivism rate (return to prison for either a new crime or a violation of supervision rules) for MUM re-entry services participants is between 5-14% compared to a statewide recidivism rate of 67%.

University of Wisconsin Prof. Julie Poehlmann-Tynan was the keynote speaker at the luncheon. Her focus is on the impact of mass incarceration on children. I have had the good fortune to get to know her previously, and to speak about the school to prison pipeline to her students. With over 2 million Americans in jail or prison, the United States incarcerates a higher percentage of its population than any other nation in the world. Remarkably, the U.S. even incarcerates more people than China, despite China’s reputation as a repressive regime and its much larger population than the U.S.

What Prof. Poehlmann-Tynan revealed was that incarcerating so many people has a traumatizing and long lasting impact on our nation’s children, including:

developing negative outcomes in adolescence and adulthood, including substance abuse, externalizing problems, cognitive delays, school failure, truancy, criminal activity, and persistent internalizing problems.

She informed us that:

  • 5 million American children have an incarcerated parent.

This equals 1 in 14 American children. Of course, since our nation has incarcerates a much higher rate of African-American and poor Americans, this also has a disparate impact on poor and African-American children. Prof. Poehlmann-Tynan informed us that:

  • 1 in 8 poor American children have an incarcerated parent; and
  • 1 in 9 African-American children have an incarcerated parent.

These numbers are shocking, and have both a current and long range impact on how children with incarcerated parents learn and develop into adults. While there are more alarming statistics about the impact of these absurdly high incarceration rates, a systems change approach requires examining solutions to stem the tide of mass incarceration.

Fortunately, there are rays of hope. Last week, Philadelphia announced its intentions to close its notorious 91 year old House of Corrections by 2020 due to reforms initiated 2 years ago. For those concerned about safety, it is notable that these reforms have already dropped Philadelphia’s jail population by 33% without causing an increase in crime.

102714414

The reforms instituted in Philadelphia include:

  • Defense attorneys working harder to get defendants released quickly with no bail or low bail, typically without opposition from prosecutors, and support from the city’s judges who are releasing them.
  • Philadelphia police taking more defendants to treatment rather than jail.
  • More petitions for early parole from longer sentences are being granted.
  • More space is now available in the city’s six jails for rehabilitation programs, and less overtime pay is needed for jail guards.

As Philadelphia’s Mayor Jim Kenney said:

The system didn’t work. It didn’t have outcomes that were acceptable. We had a revolving door. Rather than holistically treating people, we’d just lock them up, they’d do their time and then they’d be right back. It’s difficult to take care of your kids, or your parents, if you’re not there.

Kenney attributes two new approaches for making this progress.

  • Early bail review for people still in jail after five days with bonds of $50,000 or less. Kenney said 84 percent of those reviewed were released within five days, and more than 92 percent had shown up for their subsequent hearings; and
  • Police diverting drug-related offenders to treatment clinics, and since December “no one who’s been in the program has been rearrested,” Kenney said.

The city’s chief public defender, Keir Bradford-Grey, told the Washington Post that getting a $3.5 million grant from the MacArthur Foundation “brought all of us together to really examine what’s going on in our system.” She went on  to report that:

One thing the city’s defender system launched was to place lawyers at police district stations to represent clients immediately after an arrest during their first appearance before a bail commissioner. The lawyers are there 24 hours a day, seven days a week and have handled more than 1,400 cases in the past two years. “Now that we’re able to give judges much better information,” she said, “they have found it very useful when they make decisions. Usually they have no more information than the current charges and the criminal history.” But with more context about the defendant’s past, living arrangement and employment, “people are more likely to be released without a cash bond or with more affordable bond amounts.”

Another key player is Philadelphia’s newly elected district attorney, Larry Krasner, who announced in February, that:

his office would no longer ask for cash bail for low-level offenses, which he said made the system “fairer for the poor and for people of color.”

Prior to becoming Philadelphia’s DA, Krasner was a long-time civil rights and criminal defense attorney. As he said in a news release,

There is absolutely no reason why someone who will show up for court, is not a flight risk, and is no threat to their neighbors and community, needs to sit in jail for days because they can’t post a small amount of bail. It’s simply not fair. We don’t imprison the poor for poverty. This new cash bail policy will not only save the taxpayers money by allowing low-level defendants to maintain their freedom, but it will begin to level the economic and racial playing field in our courtrooms.

While Philadelphia’s progress is laudable, the rest of the nation must follow if it is going to solve its mass incarceration problem which is exacerbating  racial and income disparities at a generational level. To replicate Philadelphia’s success requires systems change. As Laurie R. Garduque, director of justice reform for the MacArthur Foundation, told the Washington Post:

Often the problem is we don’t look at it as systems reform. We look at it as one decision-maker at a time, and you don’t get buy-in from somebody. When everyone buys in and the system begins to respond more thoughtfully, there’s more public confidence and legitimacy, and families and communities are all better off.

With help from organizations like MUM, we can make progress in this area. But voters will also need to elect leaders who are committed to the types of reforms Philadelphia is making because non-profits do not get to decide who gets incarcerated and who is released into society.

_________________________________________________________________

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.

Reinvent School Policing

The Madison Metropolitan School District (MMSD) continues to study possible changes to the way it uses police in its schools. The school board set up an ad hoc committee to study this issue over a period of 15 months. At a recent meeting of that committee, some advocates argued that police have no business in our schools. They argue that restorative justice is a better approach to resolving discipline problems. However, others believe that police presence in our schools is necessary.

A few years ago, I suggested that police presence in schools should be limited to genuine emergencies in order to avoid the kind of abuse which some police have perpetrated on students in school as depicted  below from an incident in South Carolina. Subsequently, given that police presence continues in our schools, I urged that school based police officers need teen training in order to do their jobs successfully without fueling the school to prison pipeline.

SC police brutality

In Oakland, California, police stationed in schools are taking a different approach. While they handle tough situations that can range from verbal altercations to weapons possession and sexual assaults, they are tasked with much more than providing security in Oakland schools. Using social and emotional learning (SEL) skills like empathy, self-awareness, and communication, officers are directed to build relationships with staff and students first, asking questions that might give them insight into why a student is upset or disengaged, or what really caused a fight.

The Oakland Unified School District started providing Social and Emotional Learning training to police stationed in its schools two years ago. The core competencies of SEL are:

  • Self-Awareness-The ability to accurately recognize one’s own emotions, thoughts, and values and how they influence behavior. The ability to accurately assess one’s strengths and limitations, with a well-grounded sense of confidence, optimism, and a “growth mindset.”
  • Self-Management-The ability to successfully regulate one’s emotions, thoughts, and behaviors in different situations — effectively managing stress, controlling impulses, and motivating oneself. The ability to set and work toward personal and academic goals.
  • Social Awareness-The ability to take the perspective of and empathize with others, including those from diverse backgrounds and cultures. The ability to understand social and ethical norms for behavior and to recognize family, school, and community resources and supports.
  • Relationship Skills-The ability to establish and maintain healthy and rewarding relationships with diverse individuals and groups. The ability to communicate clearly, listen well, cooperate with others, resist inappropriate social pressure, negotiate conflict constructively, and seek and offer help when needed; and
  • Responsible Decision-Making-The ability to make constructive choices about personal behavior and social interactions based on ethical standards, safety concerns, and social norms. The realistic evaluation of consequences of various actions, and a consideration of the well-being of oneself and others.

The Oakland school district started incorporating SEL into its curriculum in 2011, when it accepted the research that students with higher levels of social competence will not only do better in school, but they will have a better success rate in the workforce after school.

Like Madison and many other school districts nationwide, Oakland shares a problem with disproportionate discipline of students of color. To combat this problem, in 2015, Oakland started funding restorative justice programs and banned suspensions for “willful defiance” and “disruptive behavior.” Unfortunately, due to financial problems, Oakland’s SEL and restorative justice programs have been implemented piecemeal, with some schools seeing full adoption and others, none.

While I continue to question  the need for police in schools outside of genuine emergencies, I have no doubt that if police are stationed in our schools, they cannot use the same techniques and training that prepare them for patrolling the streets, with children inside schools. The sooner police in schools receive training geared towards teenage behavior and social and emotional learning, the more success they will have in stemming the flow of the schools to prison pipeline instead of fueling its growth.

______________________________________________________________

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.

 

Vague Goals Produce Vague Results

Three years ago, I wrote with concern that the Madison Metropolitan School District’s (MMSD) Behavior Education Plan (BEP), while laudable in its purpose to reduce suspensions and expulsions and improve in school behavior, would be challenged to make genuine progress without specific goals. While I would be glad to admit that my prediction was wrong, the recently released Quarter 1 Review of the BEP confirms my fears.

school to prison pipeline

To be clear, due to some criticism of the BEP, including my own concern that it had vague goals, and insufficient staff training and support, a new implementation plan was adopted along with the following goals:

1) to promote and increase positive student behavior and social emotional growth, 2) to reduce use of out-of-school suspension and 3) to decrease disproportionate use of out-of-school suspension practices for African American students and students with disabilities.

Yet, these laudable goals are not specific, i.e., how much should positive student behavior and social emotional growth increase, how much should out-of-school suspensions decrease, and how much should disproportionate use of out-of-school suspensions for African American students and students with disabilities decrease? Moreover, if even these vague goals are not achieved, who should be held accountable for the failure to achieve these goals, and in what manner?

Remarkably, three years after the BEP was passed by the school board, without explanation or justification, the report concedes that:

A small number of schools, however, are working on establishing stable response systems, and achieving a basic level of positive student behavior and support for social emotional growth. These schools experienced, in first quarter, a disproportionate increase in level 2-5 behavior due in part to a lack of robust systems to support positive student behavior.

To be sure, there is good news in the report. For example:

  • Compared to first quarter of 2016-2017, the out-of-school suspension risk ratio for African American students in middle school has decreased significantly from 20:1 to 8:1.
  • The district-wide out-of-school suspension risk ratio for African American students and students with disabilities in Quarter 1 of this year is the lowest (10:1 for African American students and 6:1 for students with disabilities) it has ever been when comparing data from the past three first quarters of school.

However, these improvements are in stark contrast with the following bad news:

  • an overall increase in behavior events by 18% this year compared to 2016- 2017;
  • Elementary schools account for 61% of all level 2-5 incidents in Quarter 1 this year. Three of those schools had 28% of all elementary level 2-5 incidents;
  • Out-of-school suspension rates overall have increased by 15%, as compared to first quarter last year; despite reduced risk ratios, the increase is driven largely by middle school (24% increase) with students of all ethnicities accounting for some portion of the increase;
  • At the high school level, out-of-school suspensions and level 2-5 incidents are slightly up this year compared to last year, and the increase mostly impacts African American students; and
  • Most schools are below the expected baseline of implementation in the intervention category and have strategies “off track” to address the need.

Remarkably, the report’s Next Steps contain absolutely no focus on problem schools, specific goals to achieve or accountability for failure to achieve the many goals that remain out of reach.

What remains unexplained is how the behavior incidents dropped from 17,015 involving 3,841 students in the 2015-16 school year to 14,929 incidents involving 3,344 students, but then rose to exceed the already high 2015-16 numbers to 17,678 incidents involving 4,112 students. Without evidence, the report attributes this over 16% jump to, “more cohesive and comprehensive school implementation of practices foundational to behavior education.” Yet, such a statement is clearly counter-intuitive since the primary goal of the BEP is reduce behavior incidents, a dramatic rise in behavior incidents the 3rd year of implementation simply cannot be the result of better implementation that is counter to the goal.

Regarding the disproportionality goal, the report states that:

Disproportionality, particularly for our African American students, students with disabilities, and male students persists. With a disproportionality increase of 2%, in behavior incidents for African American students supporting schools, particularly addressing the implementation area that focuses on decision making. While we have not yet moved the needle for our African American students, we have experienced a 2% decrease in disproportionality for male students and 7% decrease for students with disabilities.

Since it is well documented that the school to prison pipeline is fueled by out of school suspensions and expulsions, one must wonder why MMSD has failed to reduce out of school suspensions. Yet, the report reveals that:

Out-of-school suspension rates overall have increased by 15%, as compared to first quarter last year, an increase (24%) driven largely by middle schools.

Worse than that and perhaps revealing the complete failure of accountability in implementing the BEP, the report honestly concedes that:

this data is not surprising. A key reflection, following the evaluation, was that continuing to do more of the same will not move the needle.

While the report praises the fact that out of school suspension disproportionality for African American students has decreased, such a decrease hardly matters when the overall suspension rate continues to rise.

The report fails to comment on the deeply troubling data that out of school suspension disproportionately for students with disabilities increased significantly. While 15% of MMSD’s students have disabilities, 55% of out of school suspensions involve students with disabilities, up from 50% in the prior 2 years. Sadly, the report fails to mention a single recommendation about how to improve supports for special education staff and students to mitigate this problem.

To its credit, the report is candid about the many ways in which the school district is off track in implementing the BEP. What it does not explain is why such failure is allowed to persist. Towards the end of the report, all schools are listed by where they are in implementing the BEP divided by 3 phases. This shows that elementary schools are making vastly more progress in implementing the BEP with a majority of those schools already at phase 3. But, without explanation, this chart also shows that no middle schools are at phase 3 and only half are at phase 2 of implementation, and even  worse, no high schools are in phase 3 and only 1 (Memorial) is at phase 2.

As I have said since I praised the adoption of the BEP, the plan is a good one, the failures then as now continue to be that it has:

  • vague goals;
  • lack of accountability; and
  • insufficient staff training and support.

Until the MMSD school board addresses these problems, we can expect to see a continuation of mixed results from an otherwise laudable plan, which is a wasted opportunity to improve the lives of our students and keep them out of the school to prison pipeline.

____________________________________________________________________________________________

For more information on how Jeff Spitzer-Resnick can help you accomplish effective, progressive systems change contact  him by visiting his web site: Systems Change Consulting.

 

School to Prison Pipeline Close to Home

Recently, the Madison school board voted to modify the contract it has with the City of Madison through which it pays for 4 full time police officers (one stationed in each high school). Unfortunately, rather than taking this vote as an opportunity for a serious conversation about the role of police in our schools, Madison’s Mayor, Paul Soglin threatened to remove the police from the high schools if an agreement is not reached within 45 days, though to date, he has been unwilling to engage in serious negotiations on the issue.

school to prison pipeline

Courtesy: Atlanta Black Star

While it is unclear how these negotiations will conclude, both the City and the school board would be wise to examine the available data on juvenile arrest rates to determine whether they are feeding the school to prison pipeline. I recently obtained a copy of a Dane County report with very useful data, Juvenile Population, Arrest, Law Enforcement Referral, and Recidivism in Dane County, 2007‐ 2015There is some good news. Despite an increase in the juvenile population in Dane County from about 45,000 in 2001, to just under 48,000 in 2014, the number of juvenile arrests have fallen from about 8,000 in 2001, to around 3,000 in 2015. While that is a dramatic decline, it is, nevertheless stunning to see the high percentage of juveniles arrested in Dane County. It should be noted, however, that the number of arrests of white juveniles was about the same as that of black juveniles in 2015, but due to the much smaller black population in Dane County, the arrest rate of black juveniles is 3.5 times higher than that of white juveniles.

However, arrests just start the juvenile justice process. The next step is a referral for prosecution. Referrals for prosecution also highlight a huge racial disparity. In 2015, 483 black juveniles were referred for prosecution compared to only 299 white juveniles. Overall, the juvenile referral rate has risen dramatically from 2007-2015 as follows:

  • Total juvenile arrest referral rate increase=37.7%
  • White juvenile arrest referral rate increase=41.1%
  • Black juvenile arrest referral rate increase=26.7%

The arrest referral disparity between white and black juveniles in 2015 is almost 2:1.

The most relevant data to the current debate about police in our schools is that the most common location for juvenile arrest is in school. In 2015, 22.3% of all juvenile justice referrals were from arrests that took place at school. The percentage of school arrests by race were split evenly among white, black and Hispanic juveniles at around 22% (no explanation is given for the other 34%). In 2015, 81 of the 188 Dane County school law enforcement referrals took place in MMSD schools, 67 of which were at MMSD high schools. It is worth noting that the single highest juvenile law enforcement referral has been the very generic disorderly conduct.

When juveniles enter the justice system they are assigned a social worker who makes a recommendation  to the district attorney regarding formal charges. It is worth noting that the DA has consistently charged juveniles at a higher rate than the social worker recommendation. In 2015, social workers recommended charged in 46% of cases, while prosecutors charged 56% of such cases. The racial disparities are stark. In 2015, prosecutors charged:

  • 62% of black juvenile arrestees;
  • 53% of Hispanic juvenile arrestees; and
  • 43% of white juvenile arrestees.

As the City of Madison and the Madison Metropolitan School District negotiate the future role of police officers in our schools, examining this data, with eye towards elimination of the school to prison pipeline and elimination of racial disparities in juvenile arrests should be a critical piece of the conversation.

_________________________________________________________________
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.

 

 

 

Feds Support Positive Behavioral Supports, not Suspensions

On August 1, 2016, the U.S. Dept. of Education (USDOE), Office of Special Education and Rehabilitation Services (OSERS) issued an important 16 page guidance letter informing schools that they must do more to provide positive behavioral supports to children with disabilities, instead of suspending them. The letter decries the fact that in the 2013-14 school year, nationwide 10% of all children with disabilities were suspended for 10 days or less, and that rate rises to 19% for children of color with disabilities. The guidance focuses on short term suspensions because the law gives school districts far more flexibility with suspensions of 10 days or less.

USDOE

The guidance letter makes clear that,

Research shows that school-wide, small group, and individual behavioral supports that use proactive and preventative approaches, address the underlying cause of behavior, and reinforce positive behaviors are associated with increases in academic engagement, academic achievement, and fewer suspensions and dropouts.

Moreover,

Research shows that implementing evidence-based, multi-tiered behavioral frameworks can help improve overall school climate, school safety, and academic achievement for all children, including children with disabilities.

Since children who are eligible for special education are legally entitled to a free appropriate public education (FAPE), OSERS makes clear that,

when a child with a disability experiences behavioral challenges, including those that result in suspensions or other exclusionary disciplinary measures, appropriate behavioral supports may be necessary to ensure that the child receives FAPE.

Therefore,

In the same way that an IEP Team would consider a child’s language and communication needs, and include appropriate assistive technology devices or services in the child’s IEP to ensure that the child receives a meaningful educational benefit, so too must the IEP Team consider and, when determined necessary for ensuring FAPE, include or revise behavioral supports in the IEP of a child with a disability exhibiting behavior that impedes his or her learning or that of others.

Of course,

IEPs should contain behavioral supports supported by evidence—IDEA specifically requires that both special education and related services and supplementary aids and services be based on peer-reviewed research to the extent practicable. As a matter of best practice, we strongly encourage schools to consider how the implementation of behavioral supports within the IEP could be facilitated through a school-wide, multi-tiered behavioral framework.

In many cases, it is not simply a matter of changing disciplinary practice. As OSERS states,

Appropriate supplementary aids and services could include those behavioral supports necessary to enable a child with a disability to be educated in regular classes or the setting determined to be the child’s appropriate placement. Such behavioral supports might include meetings with a behavioral coach, social skills instruction, counselor, or other approaches. In general, placement teams may not place a child with a disability in special classes, separate schooling, or other restrictive settings outside of the regular educational environment solely due to the child’s behavior when behavioral supports through the provision of supplementary aids and services could be provided for that child that would be effective in addressing his or her behavior in the regular education setting.

Program modifications and support for personnel may also be necessary to assure that children with disabilities are receiving the FAPE to which they are entitled.

School personnel may need training, coaching, and tools to appropriately address the behavioral needs of a particular child.

Fortunately, the federal guidance also includes resources, such for classroom strategies, Positive Behavioral Intervention and Supports Implementation and Self-Assessmentand a School Discipline Guidance Package.

The guidance identifies seven specific ways which may indicate that there has been either a procedural or substantive failure in the development, review or revision of a child’s IEP, including:

  • The IEP Team did not consider the inclusion of positive behavioral interventions and supports in response to behavior that impeded the child’s learning or that of others;
  • School officials failed to schedule an IEP Team meeting to review the IEP to address behavioral concerns after a reasonable parental request;
  • The IEP Team failed to discuss the parent’s concerns about the child’s behavior, and its effects on the child’s learning, during an IEP Team meeting;
  • There are no behavioral supports in the child’s IEP, even when the IEP Team determines they are necessary for the child;
  • The behavioral supports in the IEP are inappropriate for the child (e.g., the frequency, scope or duration of the behavioral supports is insufficient to prevent behaviors that impede the learning of the child or others; or consistent application of the child’s behavioral supports has not accomplished positive changes in behavior, but instead has resulted in behavior that continues to impede, or further impedes, learning for the child or others);
  • The behavioral supports in the child’s IEP are appropriate, but are not being implemented or not being properly implemented (e.g., teachers are not trained in classroom management responses or de-escalation techniques or those techniques are not being consistently implemented); or
  • School personnel have implemented behavioral supports not included in the IEP that are not appropriate for the child.

A child’s IEP may not be reasonably calculated to provide a meaningful educational benefit if:

  • The child is displaying a pattern of behaviors that impede his or her learning or that of others and is not receiving any behavioral supports;
  • The child experiences a series of disciplinary removals from the current placement of 10 days or fewer (which do not constitute a disciplinary change in placement) for separate incidents of misconduct that impede the child’s learning or that of others, and the need for behavioral supports is not considered or addressed by the IEP Team; or
  • The child experiences a lack of expected progress toward the annual goals that is related to his or her disciplinary removals or the lack of behavioral supports, and the child’s IEP is neither reviewed nor revised.

To avoid confusion, the federal guidance also makes clear that disciplinary removals are not limited to formal suspensions. They also include:

  • A pattern of office referrals, extended time excluded from instruction (e.g., time out), or extended restrictions in privileges;
  • Repeatedly sending children out of school on “administrative leave” or a “day off” or other method of sending the child home from school;
  • Repeatedly sending children out of school with a condition for return, such as a risk assessment or psychological evaluation; or
  • Regularly requiring children to leave the school early and miss instructional time (e.g., via shortened school days).

Inappropriate discipline without behavioral supports can impact the child’s right to be educated in the least restrictive environment (LRE) appropriate for the child, as the guidance points out.

Circumstances that may indicate that the child’s placement in the LRE may not be appropriate include, but are not limited to, a scenario in which a continuum of placements that provides behavioral supports is not made available (e.g., behavioral supports not provided in the regular educational setting), and, as a result, the IEP inappropriately calls for the child to be placed in special classes, separate schooling, or another restrictive placement outside the regular educational environment (e.g., home instruction, home tutoring program, or online learning program).

While harsh disciplinarians may not be pleased with the federal guidance, parents of children with disabilities should be thrilled that the federal government has issued detailed guidance which is designed to ensure that children with disabilities stay in school and receive an appropriate education instead of receiving discipline funneling them into the school to prison pipeline. As an attorney who has represented children with disabilities and their parents in school discipline matters for well over 20 years, this guidance is a welcome tool to correct inappropriately harsh discipline meted out by zero-tolerance educators.

_________________________________________________________________

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.

Police in Schools need Teen Training

Among the many reasons we have a school to prison pipeline is that many school districts  place police officers in schools. While best practice is to limit police involvement in schools to genuine emergencies, leaving general school behavior management to the educators in the school, many school districts believe that safety requires stationing police officers in their schools. School based police officers are often given euphemistic names like, police liaison officers or school resources officers. In Madison, they are dubbed educational resource officers (ERO), though they are not educators.

Although it did not take place in school, a recent interaction between Madison police and black youth at a large public event, demonstrated the lack of training of the police officers at the scene, as to how to de-escalate teens who were fighting. Without such training, police used pepper spray in a crowded public area causing innocent bystanders to suffer the painful effects of the pepper spray. Madison Police Chief Mike Koval conceded that,

conditions were less than ideal for using pepper spray. A brewing storm was kicking up wind that may have led to “collateral exposures.” But he defended his officers’ actions, saying that those involved in the alleged fight “could have been roundhoused to the point where they might have had fractures or lose consciousness.”

In a case in which I represented a middle school boy against the Sun Prairie police because the officer slammed my client’s head to the ground when he would not give the officer his cell phone (the boy has disabilities and was granted permission to use his phone by the school), when I took the officer’s deposition, it was clear that he had no training in dealing with teenagers, nor children with disabilities. The case settled just before the trial was scheduled to take place.

Fortunately, there are resources available to provide training to police when they interact with teens, whether in school or in public. Put simply, when policing the teen brain, there are better ways to communicate because teen brains are different.

teenbrainjpg-d63fe0ca8d3bc789-195x300

From Cleveland Plain Dealer, March 9, 2016. Click here for larger image.

Strategies for Youth provides training for police on how to successfully interact with teens. Police have used this training successfully in Virginia Beach, although nationally, only about 1% of police training includes strategies for dealing with teens. The training program helps police and youth by:

  • Making interactions with youth easier and faster, less conflicted and more compliant;
  • Asserting authority effectively with youth with reduced reliance on force and arrest;
  • Recognizing and responding appropriately to youth presenting mental health and addiction issues;
  • Investing in youth and increasing youths’ trust and communication with police;
  • Reducing departments’ overtime and court costs by partnering with youth serving, community-based organizations for low-level offenses; and
  • Supporting good community relations and reduce complaints.

The Madison Police Department and the Madison Metropolitan School District are currently examining the role of police in Madison schools. Any agreement to continue to the placement of educational resource officers in all of Madison’s high schools should include mandatory training for these officers on successful interactions with teens in order to reduce the school to prison pipeline and keep everyone in school safe.

______________________________________________________________

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.

Discipline them ’til they drop out

The U.S. Department of Education recently released the latest data which provides a lot of information about students in special education. Unfortunately, in critical areas, including discipline and drop-outs, in addition to overall high rates of excessive discipline and drop-outs, racial disparities persist. The data varies significantly between states, and readers can check their own states’ data, as well as gender disparities and those of other racial or ethnic groups, on the Dept. of Education’s website linked above, but to illustrate the problem, I will use my home state of Wisconsin’s data for Black, Hispanic and White students, and compare that to the national average.

USDOE

The national data for special education eligibility is:

  • White:                                          49.7%
  • Hispanic/Latino:                      24.75%
  • Black or African American : 18.47%

The Wisconsin special education eligibility rates are:

  • White:                                        66.26%
  • Hispanic/Latino:                     11.33%
  • Black or African American: 15.28%

Since we know that school success can only happen if students remain in school, the data for suspensions and drop outs is deeply disturbing:

The percent of students with disabilities suspended or expelled 10 or more days is as follows:

US suspension/expulsions 10+days:

  • White:                                         30.43%
  • Hispanic/Latino:                      16.55%
  • Black or African American : 47.16%

Wisconsin suspension/expulsions 10+days:

  • White:                                         25.53%
  • Hispanic/Latino:                        9.31%
  • Black or African American : 62.14%

That’s right. Despite the fact that Black students make up less than 20% of students with disabilities nationally and in Wisconsin, they comprise nearly half of US students with disabilities suspended or expelled more than 10 days and nearly 2/3 of Wisconsin students with disabilities

If that does not shock you, it is even more disturbing when one examines the actual number of students with disabilities suspended or expelled out of school.

  • US total students with disabilities suspended/expelled 10+ days: 52,848
  • US total students with disabilities suspended/expelled <10 days: 487,847
  • US total Hispanic/Latino students with disabilities suspended/expelled 10+ days: 8,713
  • US total Hispanic/Latino students with disabilities suspended/expelled <10 days: 90,779
  • US total Black or African American students with disabilities suspended/expelled 10+ days: 24,827
  • US total Black or African American students with disabilities suspended/expelled <10 days: 182,116

The Wisconsin numbers are equally disturbing.

  • Wisconsin total students with disabilities suspended/expelled 10+ days: 795
  • Wisconsin total students with disabilities suspended/expelled <10 days: 10,907
  • Wisconsin total Hispanic/Latino students with disabilities suspended/expelled 10+ days: 74
  • Wisconsin total Hispanic/Latino students with disabilities suspended/expelled <10 days: 1,111
  • Wisconsin total Black or African American students with disabilities suspended/expelled 10+ days: 494
  • Wisconsin total Black or African American students with disabilities suspended/expelled <10 days: 4,332

Of course, when students are disciplined out of school, many of them end up dropping out.

US students with disabilities ages 14-21 dropping out in 2013-14

  • White: 9.49%
  • Hispanic/Latino: 14.55%
  • Black or African American: 14.3%

Wisconsin students with disabilities ages 14-21 dropping out in 2013-14

  • White: 7.95%
  • Hispanic/Latino: 16.73%
  • Black: 29.38%

Once again, to make clear that these are not just percentages, but real live children, here are the actual numbers of drop outs in these categories.

US students with disabilities ages 14-21 dropping out in 2013-14

  • White: 29,876
  • Hispanic/Latino: 18,812
  • Black or African American: 19,452

Wisconsin students with disabilities ages 14-21 dropping out in 2013-14

  • White: 536
  • Hispanic/Latino: 164
  • Black: 639

These numbers are a tragic indication of a failed education  system that metes out excessive discipline ultimately driving tens of thousands of our most vulnerable students to drop out of school, many of whom will commit crimes and fuel the school to prison pipeline.

However, we need to stop admiring this problem. It is not a new problem. Rather, it is a persistent problem. It persists because those who are responsible for underfunding our schools and permitting local school officials to remove students from school excessively are not held accountable. The numbers are only evidence of a deeply rooted problem. With tragic and transparent evidence of such widespread failure, who will accept responsibility and solve this ongoing nightmare? Who will we hold accountable for this failure?

___________________________________________________

For more information on how Jeff Spitzer-Resnick can help you accomplish effective, progressive systems change contact him by visiting his web site: Systems Change Consulting.

 

 

 

 

Police in Schools? Only in Emergencies

The recent incident of police brutality in a South Carolina school makes clear that the trend of ever increasing police presence in our schools has gone too far. Last year, I settled a case of police brutality in a Sun Prairie, Wisconsin middle school, just before it went to trial. Both of these incidents illustrate exactly why police do not belong in school, other than in genuine emergencies.

SC police brutality

In both incidents, the students were not causing or threatening harm to anyone. Both students simply wanted to use their cell phones and failed to follow police orders not to do so. The result in both incidents was a violent use of force by the police officer simply because the children did not follow the police officer’s command.

Earlier this year the Center for Public Integrity produced eye-opening data revealing the number of school referrals to law enforcement on a state by state basis. The data should shock anyone who is concerned about the schools to prison pipeline. The worst state is Virginia which sends nearly 16 out of every 1000 students to law enforcement. Sadly, racial and disability disparities are also revealed. In Virginia, that rate jumps to over 25/1000 black students and over 33/1000 students with disabilities.

My own state of Wisconsin has the 7th highest rate sending over 10/1000 students to law enforcement, with similarly troubling racial and disability disparities. Wisconsin schools send 14/1000 black students to law enforcement and nearly 25/1000 students with disabilities are referred to law enforcement.

Due to this overuse of police in our schools, the National Disabilities Rights Network just issued its recommendations on school policing, earlier this week. Among the key recommendations are:

  • The role of School Resource Officers (SROs) should be limited to ensuring school safety in the manner expected of a sworn law enforcement officer. Local Education Agencies (LEAs) (school districts) should assess whether SROs working in their districts are being used to enforce non-violent school code violations, manage student behavior (including the behavior of students with disabilities who have behavior plans), and other non–law enforcement tasks. If so, they should remove SROs from the school environment or alter their role accordingly.
  • In any instance in which a SRO works in a school setting, the school districts should develop and publicize Memoranda of Understanding (MOU) with the relevant law enforcement agencies regarding the use of school based law enforcement. The purpose of the MOU is to make clear the role of the SRO in the school setting, and specifically to clarify that SROs may not be used enforce non-violent school code violations, manage student behavior (including the behavior of students with disabilities who have behavior plans), and other non– law enforcement tasks.
  • All law enforcement officers working in and around schools must know how to appropriately interact with individuals with disabilities.
  • All law enforcement officers working in and around schools must understand the developmental needs of children and youth, and how to interact with them successfully. This includes the need of all law enforcement officers to comply with Constitutional requirements in a manner that is developmentally appropriate for students of the age they will encounter in the course of their work.
  • State Education Agencies (SEAs) and LEAs should use reported data, including disaggregated data on school based arrests to guide school improvement plans and to highlight disparities (i.e. resources, discipline disparities). This data analysis should be used to ensure that LEAs are taking action to remedy disparities in school based arrests. Where they are not remedying disparities on their own, the federal government should enforce the law using the full extent of their authority.
  • All LEAs must report accurate data to the Civil Rights Data Collection (CRDC) in a timely manner. The US Department of Education (ED) should hold non-compliant districts accountable, including but not limited to, withholding administrative funds to grantees, and lowering scores when non-compliant districts compete for new federal education competitive grants. Competition scores should be increased for fully compliant districts. ED should report to the public when a sanction has been levied against a district for failing to report as required, in order to improve confidence in the reporting system. This compliance must include reporting of school based arrests and referrals to law enforcement.
  • Require implicit bias training for schools and/or districts that are under consent decrees or that have significant disproportionality in discipline, referrals to juvenile justice, access to programs and/or resources.
  • Requiring SEAs with schools and districts that have high levels of exclusionary discipline, or disproportionality in rates of exclusionary discipline, to provide the following training/professional development to school staff and SROs, at a frequency based on a quarterly review of discipline/school removal data and law enforcement referral data.

    o IDEA (federal special education law) discipline policies and requirements
    o Crisis management
    o Data-driven, evidence-based prevention and responsive strategies (including such approaches as restorative justice and Positive Behavioral Interventions and Supports)
    o De-escalation strategies
    o Understanding and responding to the effects of trauma o Culturally responsive practices
    o Implicit bias

    Finally, school districts identified as having elevated school-based arrest rates remove SROs from the school environment as soon as possible.

    The bottom line is that police do not belong in schools to enforce school discipline policies. They should only be used in cases of violent emergencies.

    ______________________________________________________________

    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.

Which Students Overcome Suspensions?

While I have written a lot about the problems with zero tolerance policies in school fueling the school to prison pipeline, a recent analysis provides new insights into which students overcome the burdens imposed upon them when they are suspended from school.

According to the analysis  by the Brooking Institution, high school graduation rates are significantly lower for students who are suspended. This leads to lower income later in life as the “suspension penalty” carries into adulthood.

Reeves 102001

It is well documented that school discipline is disproportionally meted out on students of color, those with disabilities, and those who are low-income, which is a problem in my hometown of Madison, Wisconsin. But, as the Brookings analysis points out, economic success later in life for suspended students is impacted greatly by whether or not the student graduates from high school and obtains further education.

Reeves 102002

Reeves 102003

Not surprisingly, then, family income is directly related to whether or not a child is suspended.

Reeves 102004

The Brookings analysis also examines two other critical factors which help determine whether or not a child can overcome the burden of suspension. First, students who live with both biological parents through age 18 have a much better chance of overcoming the burden of suspension.

Reeves 102005

Finally, whether or not the student’s mother graduated from high school has a strong correlation to whether or not the student graduates. This correlation is particularly profound for students who are suspended.

Reeves 102006

Thus, while school discipline policies must continue to reduce the likelihood of suspension due to the long term problematic outcomes for suspended students, the larger picture of family stability and parental success must also be supported if we hope to stop the generational poverty which burdens our society.

________________________________________________________________
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.