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.

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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.

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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.

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Close the Achievement Gap: Increase Intensive Support

As the Madison Metropolitan School District (MMSD) Board of Education reviews the budget which its administration has prepared for the coming year, it would be wise to take a close look at its continuing problem with the ongoing racial, disability and poverty achievement gap and focus on how appropriate staffing can help to close that gap. While some improvements have been made, persistent gaps remain.

Students simply will not succeed if they are not in school. During the 2014-15 school year 2,477 MMSD students were habitually truant (meaning 5 or more days of unexcused absence from school) representing 9.8% of all MMSD students. But 1,235 of those students (nearly half) were African-American, representing 26.9% of all MMSD African-American students.

During that same year, MMSD suspended 1,713 students. But, 1,069 of them were African-American representing well over half of those suspended students. 402 of MMSD suspended students had disabilities, representing 10.9% of all MMSD students with disabilities, nearly half of all MMSD suspended students. While the data does not reveal how many African-American students with disabilities were suspended, when one adds the African-American suspended students and the suspended students with disabilities, that number almost equals all MMSD suspended students so it is safe to assume that African-American students with disabilities have the highest rate of suspension in the district.

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That MMSD’s discipline data reveals troubling racial and disability disparities is consistent with national data. But that should come as no solace to anyone, as nobody should admire the data. Instead, we need to apply solutions that we know will work to solve the problem.

While MMSD’s Behavior Education Plan has succeeded in significantly reducing the total number of suspensions, it also reveals another glaring gap for children in poverty. While 48% of MMSD students qualify for free or reduced lunch, a shocking 89% of MMSD suspensions were doled out to low-income students.

Finally, graduation rates also reveal a troubling achievement gap. At the end of the 2014-15 school year, 80.1% of MMSD seniors graduated in 4 years. But only 57.8% of African-American students; 56.8% of students with disabilities; and 62.1% of low-income students graduate in 4 years.

Fortunately, MMSD has a program designed to address the needs of its students with the most intensive needs. The Intensive Support Team (IST) takes requests from MMSD staff to address the needs of students in crisis. As of May 2, 2016, during this school year, there were 455 requests for support to IST. Of these, 411 were served by the team in one of several capacities (consultation, intake/assessment, professional development, short term stabilization), 250 were closed and the rest still active. This means that nearly 10% of referrals were not served and over 1/2 of all referrals are still receiving intensive supports.

Unfortunately, staff cuts were made to this team last year and the administration’s proposed budget does not propose to fill those cuts. The good news is that the budget is still in the discussion stage. School board member Anna Moffit has proposed to increase the IST staff by 3.5 FTE staff to address the unmet need for these students at a cost of approximately $250,000. In an era of tight budgets and state imposed revenue caps, Ms. Moffit recognizes that the money must come from somewhere so she has identified the following reasonable places where this money can be found: reduce spending on Technology Plan; reduce spending on Educational Resource Officers; or utilize funds saved from not filling the position of Special Assistant to the Superintendent ($125,000 dollars).

The school board and our community must recognize that failing to meet the needs of these students has a significant cost both to these students and to society at large. A recent report by the UCLA Civil Rights project from which I extrapolated the high cost of suspensions in Wisconsin, reveals that each suspended student who fails to graduate results in:

  • $19,572 in fiscal costs; and
  • $60,962 in societal costs.

Thus, if the IST is able to help only 5 more students at risk of suspension to graduate, it will have saved our community far more money than the additional cost which Ms. Moffit proposes spending on this worthy program. Thus, her proposal makes senses for educational, equitable, social and economic reasons and should therefore receive the support of the full school board.

Residents of MMSD who support Ms. Moffit’s proposal should e-mail the school board to encourage them to approve her amendment at: board@madison.k12.wi.us.

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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.

 

The High Cost of School Suspensions

While many school officials choose to suspend students who misbehave either to teach them a lesson or simply to remove a child who may have caused a disruption in school, they need to understand the long term consequences to both the suspended child and to society as a whole which result from these suspensions.

Today, the UCLA Civil Rights Project released an in-depth report on, The High Cost of Harsh Discipline and its Disparate Impact which takes a comprehensive look at the impact of school suspensions on children and society.

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This study demonstrates markedly lower graduation rates for students who are suspended even one time. Nationally, the graduation rate drops by 12 percentage points for suspended students!

The report then goes on to calculate the fiscal and social costs of suspensions which lead to high school drop outs.

The consequences are expressed as the lifetime differences between dropouts and graduates in: incomes; taxes paid; government spending on health, crime, and welfare; tax distortions; and productivity gains. Although the fiscal and social costs are related, the social costs include the aggregate losses incurred by dropouts personally such as their lower income, diminished productivity, and higher expenditures on health care due to poorer health. The fiscal costs are a subset of the social costs and cover only the losses experienced by federal, state and local governments due to lower income tax revenues and higher government expenditures on health and social services, and on the criminal justice system.

The report estimates that the national average economic loss per high school non-graduate due to suspension is:

  • fiscal costs to taxpayers: $163,340/suspended non-graduating student
  • social costs to society: $527, 695/suspended non-graduating student

When one multiplies all suspended non-graduates by these economic losses, the national economic impact is tremendous:

  • overall national fiscal cost to taxpayer: $11 billion due to suspended non-graduates
  • overall national social cost to society: $35.7 billion due to suspended non-graduates

On an optimistic note, the report then estimates the nationwide economic benefits achieved by reducing suspensions. For each percentage point of reduction, our nation would save:

  • $691 million saved in fiscal costs/1% reduction in suspension rate
  • $2.2 billion saved in social costs/1% reduction in suspension rates.

The report examines 2 states, Florida and California, but it encourages educators and policymakers to apply this impact to every other state. Thus, in examining Wisconsin’s suspension rate, while the suspension rate has been going down, in 2014-15, Wisconsin school districts nevertheless suspended 31,167 students, or 3.6% of all enrolled students. Using the report’s data, and applying the national average 12% increase in drop-out rate for suspended students, this means that the total economic impact for Wisconsin suspended non-graduates is estimated to be:

  • $610 million fiscal cost to Wisconsin taxpayers due to suspended non-graduates
  • $1.9 billion social cost to Wisconsin society due to suspended non-graduates

The Wisconsin Department of Public Instruction provides suspension data by school district, race/ethnicity, gender and disability. For example, in the Madison area, the Beloit School District has the highest rate of suspension at 10.1% (nearly 3 times the state average). Racial disparities exist throughout the state. Statewide, Wisconsin school districts suspended 15.1% African-American students in 2014-15, nearly 5 times the state average. Beloit once again has troubling racial disparities, having suspended 21.8% of its African-American students that year.

Disparities are also troubling for students with disabilities. Statewide 9.5% of students with disabilities were suspended statewide (nearly 3 times the statewide average). Once again, Beloit exhibits disturbing disparities, having suspended 22.9% of its students with disabilities that year.

Thus, the economic impact on the most disadvantaged groups of students is many times higher than for white non-disabled students.

The report concludes with 3 major recommendations:

  1. When federal and state governments create and implement evaluation and oversight plans for schools and districts they should include suspension rates among the indicators they use to determine whether schools are high performing or in need of assistance.
  2. Use the suspension data as part of an early warning system for schools and districts. Thus, as more districts with high suspension rates explore alternatives, we will need data to help them distinguish between effective and ineffective interventions and policy changes.
  3. State and federal policymakers should provide schools and districts with incentives to improve their school climate, such as grants for substantial teacher and administrator trainings, and resources targeted at improving the collection and use of discipline data at the school level.

These are all excellent ideas, and local school districts need not wait for state and federal policymakers to implement local changes to reduce suspensions, thereby increasing graduation rates, and reducing fiscal and social costs to all of us. This report demonstrates that the investments are well worth the money and effort.

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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.

 

 

Madison’s School Discipline Gets National Attention

UCLA’s Civil Rights Project recently released a comprehensive national report, entitled, Are we Closing the School Discipline Gap?  

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As the authors state:

The egregious disparities revealed in the pages that follow transform concerns about educational policy that allows frequent disciplinary removal into a profound matter of civil rights and social justice. This implicates the potentially unlawful denial of educational opportunity and resultant disparate impact on students in numerous districts across the country.

The authors go on to draw the connection between excessive discipline and and poor academic performance.  As they mention:

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…

The authors conclude that:

the large racial/ethnic disparities in suspensions that we document in this report likely will have an adverse and disparate impact on the academic achievement and life outcomes of millions of historically disadvantaged children. This supports our assertion that we will close the racial achievement gap only when we also address the school discipline gap.

The report contains an addendum which highlights 20 school districts, including Madison, Wisconsin. It is important to note that the report uses data from 2009-2012, before the inception of Madison’s new Behavior Education Plan at the beginning of the 2014-15 school year.  The authors describe the data from the earlier period as “deeply disturbing.”  They highlight the following:

in 2011-12, over 46% of all Black students with disabilities and over 49% of all Black males with disabilities were suspended at least once at the secondary school level. The district’s overall rates are also above the national average at both the elementary and secondary levels.

Equally troubling is that the Madison Metropolitan School District’s suspension rates increased between 2009-10 and 2011-12:

• Overall suspension rates at the elementary level increased, with roughly 595 students suspended at least once in 2011-12, or 4.2%. This represents an increase of 1.7 percentage points from the 2009-10 rate of 2.5%.

• Overall suspension rates at the secondary level increased, with roughly 1,620 students suspended at least once in 2011-12, or 12.9%. This represents an increase of over one half a percentage point from the 2009-10 rate of 12.3%.

With this national attention in mind, it is worth examining how Madison’s new Behavior Education Plan has impacted this disturbing situation. Coincidentally, on the exact same day that the Civil Rights Project released its report, the Madison Metropolitan School District (MMSD) released its Behavior Education Plan Mid-Year Review.

First, the good news, suspension have dropped significantly from the 2013-14 school year to the current year.  However, the disparities in discipline remain.

  • 35% of all suspensions were of children with disabilities even though they only represent 14% of the total district population (this is somewhat better than the 39% rate in 2013-14);
  • 84% of all suspensions were of children who receive free or reduced lunch due to their low income status, far greater than their 48% of the total student population (and somewhat lower than the 87% rate in 2013-14);
  • 64% of suspensions were of African-American students despite their only being 18% of the total district population (this is worse than the 59% rate in 2013-14); and
  • the best news was that Hispanic student suspensions dropped to 9% from the previous year’s 13%, both of which are lower than their overall 20% of the student population.

The question for Madison is not whether the Behavior Education Plan is having an impact. It clearly is reducing suspensions.  However, given the stark disparities which still remain, as I have repeatedly stated, until MMSD sets measurable goals for the Plan, neither it, nor the public at large will be able to determine whether it is accomplishing what we believe it should, namely more time in school resulting in improved academic performance and closing the achievement gap.

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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.

Replicate this: The Kalamazoo Promise Works

The sound and fury of school reform proponents is deafening as they decry public school failures and urge privatization, charters and high stakes testing.  Equally furious public school supporters seek to cast blame for public school failures on the twin devils of inadequate school funding and student poverty.  Remarkably, neither camp spends a lot of time focusing on innovative programs with proven success and encouraging successful replication.

While successful systems change requires genuine root cause analysis of the problems which require change, real change is far easier and more likely to succeed when a successful model exists which is worthy of replication.  When it comes to increasing high school graduation rates, improving grades, and lowering behavior problems, the Kalamazoo Promise is a program which succeeds in all these measures, and clearly deserves emulation nationwide.

The Kalamazoo Promise started 8 years ago, and has nearly 4000 eligible students. Through sufficient donations, it promises to provide public college scholarships to Kalamazoo High School graduates, with at least a 2.0 grade point average, so unlike many other scholarship programs, it is not designed to serve only academically oriented students.  Of course, students must perform well enough in high school to gain entry into a Michigan college or university, which encourages students who want to obtain the Promise scholarships to work harder.  However, scholarships are available to every Michigan public post-secondary institution from local community colleges to flagship institutions such as the University of Michigan and Michigan State University, thereby fitting the needs of any student who seeks a post-secondary education.

The scholarships provide 65% of public college tuition and mandatory fees for Kalamazoo students who enrolled in high school in 9th grade, sliding up to 100% for those who attend Kalamazoo Public Schools (KPS) from Kindergarten through 12th grade.  This feature has actually served to increase public school enrollment in Kalamazoo, stemming what had been an 18 year trend of declining enrollment and white flight.  Between 80-90% of KPS graduates have been eligible for college scholarships and between 82-85% have received scholarships ranging from $5,000-55,000.

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This chart also reveals that KPS is a mid-size urban school district with significant poverty (13.6% in the 2000 census), and a racially diverse make-up, which makes it all the more appropriate for replication in the myriad of other similar districts throughout the country. This enrollment rise reflects both new students coming into KPS because of the Promise as well as fewer students leaving (through drop out or moving) than prior to the Promise.

In addition to the clear benefit from enrollment rising in KPS, a recent study shows important academic and behavioral results from the Promise:

  • Increased credits obtained by KPS high school students;
  • Increased grades earned by all KPS students with a more dramatic increase for African-American students; and a
  • Decrease in days of suspension for all students, with a more dramatic decrease for African-American students.

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The researchers appropriately deem these results striking and further find that:

The decrease in the number of days spent in suspension might have shifted past some “tipping point” beyond which more presence in the classroom leads to higher grades, while leaving the white students less affected.

With results like these, school advocates of all stripes should push private foundations as well as state and federal governments to put their energy and funding into replicating the Kalamazoo Promise nationwide.

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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.

 

Transformative Justice & the Broken Chair

Perhaps it is fitting that one of the areas about which I am most passionate in my work, is the area of school discipline since I suffered under its yoke quite a bit, particularly in junior high school, when I received dozens of detentions (often for foul language) and was once suspended for “gross disrespect.”  Having experienced a lot of school discipline first hand, I learned quite intimately how poorly applied school discipline only served to make me angry and taught me to disrespect those applying inane punishments (e.g., 1000x of writing “I will call my gym teacher Mr. Dressler.”).  Fortunately, I also learned when appropriate discipline served to teach me an important lesson, allowing the teacher the regain control of the classroom, assure safety, and earn my respect.

When I was in 4th grade, attending Dewey Elementary school, in Oak Park, Michigan, a lower-middle class predominantly Jewish suburb bordering Detroit, I had my first African-American teacher, Mrs. Blackmun.  She was an excellent teacher and I have many fond memories of that year.  However, I had one unfortunate habit which was leaning back on my chair. Despite Mrs. Blackmun’s repeated admonitions to stop doing that for fear that I might fall and hurt myself, I simply could not break my habit of leaning back, which of course resulted in periodic falls, thereby disrupting the class, with new warnings from Mrs. Blackmun.

Towards the end of that year, I fell backwards in my chair one last time.  On this occasion, the back of the wooden chair broke and left a rough wooden edge.  I knew that I was in trouble and meekly awaited my punishment.  At that moment, Mrs. Blackmun showed her utter brilliance by announcing that my punishment was simply that I would continue to sit in the broken chair for the rest of the year.  No suspension, no trip to the office to be scolded by the principal, no parent meeting to shame me, and no requirement to pay for a new chair, which obviously at that age, I could not afford.  Her punishment not only fit the crime, but it was truly transformative because due to the jagged edge, I simply could no longer lean back in my chair and potentially fall backwards, hurt myself and disrupt the class.  To Mrs. Blackmun, I owe my undying gratitude as her brilliant punishment taught me that it is possible to transform a misdeed into a life long lesson that I have carried with me ever since for nearly 45 years.

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A recent article discussing both restorative and transformative justice defined transformative justice as follows:

With the term transformative justice, it is more blatantly clear that we wish to not only provide restitution to the victim, but that we want to improve the overall situation for the victim, the offender, and the community.

With the schools to prison pipeline continuing to explode, more educators should heed Mrs. Blackmun’s lesson and seek to apply transformative justice in their schools and classrooms.  The chairs may not get repaired, but the students’ lives will be transformed in a positive manner.

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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.

 

States Need to Adopt Progressive School Discipline Laws

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?

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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.

 

 

Establish a Law School Clinical Program to Assist those Caught up in the Schools to Prison Pipeline

Yesterday, I had the opportunity to speak to University of Wisconsin Law School Clinical faculty and students about the possibility of establishing a clinical program through which law students, under the supervision of clinical faculty, would represent students caught up in the Schools to Prison Pipeline due to school discipline problems.  As of yet, there is no funding for such a program, but there is no doubt that the need is great.

As I have written previously, the Madison Metropolitan School District (MMSD) suspends over 2,000 students/year, over half of whom are African-American, and nearly half of whom have disabilities.  While there is hope on the horizon, given the school board’s recent decision to institute a new Behavior Education Plan starting in the 2014-15 school year, that Plan has no specific numerical goals, and as system change tends to take a long time, I have made it clear that students need advocates to navigate their way through the school discipline system.  This is not only my opinion, as the esteemed Yale Law Journal made clear that parents are not enough to help students with disabilities navigate their way through the complexities of the educational/legal system.  Quite plainly, students need external advocates.

There are many potential designs for a Schools to Prison Pipeline Law School Clinical program.  The David A. Clark School of Law at the University of District of Columbia has run an excellent Juvenile & Special Education Law Clinic for over 20 years. The Cardozo Law School at Yeshiva University operates a Youth Justice Clinic.

If the University of Wisconsin Law School wants to establish a School to Prison Pipeline Clinic, it would have to make the following decisions:

  • Would it work on cases in one or more school districts?
  • Would it focus exclusively on children with disabilities, where the law is more helpful, or provide assistance to any student caught up in the Schools to Prison Pipeline?
  • Would it have office hours inside school buildings, with the cooperation of the school district, or work in a community agency, such as the Boys and Girls Club of Dane Countythe YWCA Madison, the Nehemiah Center for Urban Leadership Development, or another local agency, which already work on Schools to Prison Pipeline issues?
  • Would the University of Wisconsin provide the funding for faculty to oversee the clinical program, and any other attendant costs, or would outside foundations need to fund the program?

While many different models could be implemented, the need is great, and students caught up in the schools to prison pipeline need legal assistance now, as there simply is not enough no or low cost legal assistance available to meet the enormous need.  If those who want to address the problem put their minds together, perhaps such a clinical program can begin as soon as the fall of 2014.  But, if not, the need will not disappear, so good planning should move forward so a high quality Schools to Prison Pipeline Law School Clinic can be established as soon as possible.

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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.

The Synergy of Individual Advocacy & Systems Change

Recently, I had the opportunity to demonstrate, once again, the synergy of individual advocacy & systems change.  For nearly 20 years, I have been combating the schools to prison pipeline, as I wrote about over a year ago.  In January, I started writing a series of blogs and submitted them to the Madison Metropolitan School District (MMSD) school board as its administrators developed a series of 4 drafts of what started out as a proposed revision of its discipline plan, but on my advice, became the new Behavior Education Plan, which will go into effect on September 1, 2014, and you can review here.  That plan had been sailing under the radar with relatively minimal public input, until my clients and I recently went public with an expulsion case which was a classic  example of zero tolerance run amok.  Fortunately, in one night, the school board ended my client’s expulsion, and then proceeded to approve the new Behavior Education Plan, in front of a packed auditorium, putting 2 nails in the coffin of zero tolerance.

As I testified to the school board that night, MMSD’s new, improved plan is not perfect, as it fails to set specific goals for reducing out of school discipline such as suspensions and expulsions, and accordingly fails to set specific goals for reducing the racial and disability disparities in both discipline and academic achievement which the district has long struggled to overcome.  In addition, I encouraged the school board to place advocates in each school to assist students and their parents through the discipline process as well as other challenges, including academic, which students may encounter.

Unfortunately, after I made that suggestion, the President of the MMSD School Board, publicly criticized my suggestion, as he does not view the discipline process as “adversarial,” which is fairly remarkable given his work as an attorney, but even more remarkable given that he truly does not understand the role that advocates actively play not only to improve outcomes for the children for whom they advocate, but to help change flawed systems for the better.

For nearly 30 years, my career as a civil rights attorney has involved taking individual cases and evolving them, when appropriate, into positive systems change.  This includes the struggle to finally pass a new law prohibiting the inappropriate use of seclusion and restraint, which only occurred after representing many students harmed by this horrific practice and shedding the bright media light on it.

Any system that desires continuous improvement should recognize the value of advocacy as both an individual corrective tool, as well as a vehicle for identifying systemic problems. Dane County, Wisconsin, has recognized the value of having an internal ombudsman in its human services department to “ensure that people are getting appropriate services.”

While it is unclear whether MMSD can afford to place ombudsmen or advocates in each of its schools, it should certainly examine its budget to pilot such a program in schools with the highest discipline and academic problems.  Moreover, it could partner with outside agencies, which have existing advocacy services, such as Wisconsin Family Ties, which uses non-lawyer professional advocates, Wisconsin FACETS, which uses non-lawyer paid and volunteer advocates, and Disability Rights Wisconsin, which uses non-lawyer advocates with legal back-up and occasional direct lawyer involvement.  However, all of these agencies only work with children with disabilities, and I know of no agency providing school advocacy services to non-disabled students.

If the MMSD truly wants to ensure that its new Behavior Education Plan succeeds, it should actively engage with existing advocacy organizations, and work to obtain foundation support to fund advocates for non-disabled students.  Working together with the school district, on behalf of students, these advocates can correct natural human errors in the new system, and provide useful data to the MMSD administration so it can take corrective measures when repeated problems inevitably crop up.

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For more information on how I can help you accomplish effective, progressive systems change e-mail Jeff Spitzer-Resnick or visit Systems Change Consulting.

Put the Last Nails in the Coffin of Zero Tolerance

Tonight, the Madison Metropolitan School District (MMSD) Board will consider a so-called final draft of a Behavior Education Plan for possible adoption with proposed implementation in the beginning of the 2014-15 school year.  Consistent with the 3 prior drafts, about which I have reported previously, this version goes a long way to end antiquated zero tolerance discipline policies in Madison, if the Board adopts it.

The school board will consider the new plan after it decides whether to expel my client from school for 1 1/2 years as originally proposed by Superintendent Jen Cheatham, and ultimately adopted by the expulsion hearing officer after a nearly 5 hour grueling hearing. This case has received significant media attention as an instance of zero tolerance run amok, since my client made the only behavioral mistake she has ever made in her nearly 10 years of public school education in Madison by succumbing to peer pressure and bringing a small amount of alcohol in a water bottle to school, and giving a small amount to a friend (neither of whom drank any of it).  Fortunately, Superintendent Cheatham has subsequently recommended that the School Board apply the proposed Behavior Education Plan to pending expulsions for the remainder of this year, under which my client would not have been expelled.

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Thus, the MMSD School board has multiple opportunities tonight to put the last nails in the coffin of zero tolerance and shift the school district’s focus to the far more appropriate education of its children when misbehavior happens.  However, prior to the vote, it is important to understand both the strengths and weaknesses of the final draft.

In terms of strengths, the final draft makes quite clear that, as Superintendent Cheatham’s introductory message states,

  • zero-tolerance policies that result in frequent removal from school are ineffective in changing student behavior and in fact have  negative impact on student outcomes–lower academic achievement, drop out rates and increased likelihood that a student will enter the criminal justice system.” and
  • “these policies disproportionately affect certain groups of students, especially our African American students and students with disabilities.”

The final draft continues to specify important rights and responsibilities of students, parents, teachers, administrator and the school board.  The final draft adds important provisions that:

  • require school administrators to not only keep good records on inappropriate student behavior, but adds a requirement that they also record behavioral interventions and responses;
  • requires the school board to use qualitative and quantitative data to create and evaluate policies that promote thriving school environments that are respectful, engaging, vibrant and culturally relevant.

The main thrust of the plan is to:

  • institute district-wide systems of positive behavior support (PBS);
  • implement a system of progressive intervention & discipline;
  • and reducing the offenses for which expulsion will be recommended to very few and only those that involve actual violence or possession of a gun or firearm.

Implementing such a plan effectively will involve both a cultural shift in practice as well as addition of staff resources for training and support.  To that end, Superintendent Cheatham is proposing allocating $1.6 million to 17 district schools, including all district high schools, which have records of challenging discipline practices.  Adopting of this recommendation will be critical to successful implementation of the plan.

Of course, like any major change in policy, the plan is not perfect.  As I have stated before, despite statements within both the plan and the Implications for Practice document that accountability is part of the plan, there are absolutely no measurable goals set forth in the plan! How can anyone be held accountable if the plan has no measurable goals?

Moreover, the entire Plan continues to fail to adopt these key provisions:

  • A commitment that no educational time will be lost due to disciplinary removals;
  • Elimination of racial and disability disparities in the district’s disciplinary practices; and
  • although the plan continues to trumpet the “rights and responsibilities” of students, parents & guardians, teachers & staff, administrators, central office staff and the Board of Education, the plan remains silent regarding the consequences of any failures to honor those rights or fulfill those responsibilities.

Despite these flaws, I urge the Board to adopt the final draft of this plan tonight, and to work to remedy these flaws as the plan moves forward in the future.  Doing so, and readmitting my expelled client so she can go back to school tomorrow will go a long way to put the last nails in the coffin of zero tolerance in Madison, which will likely lead to the kind of success Colorado is now experiencing after that state passed a new law in 2012 limiting the use of zero tolerance practices and emphasizing restorative practices.

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For more information on how I can help you accomplish effective, progressive systems change e-mail Jeff Spitzer-Resnick or visit Systems Change Consulting.