During April 11-13, students, parents, community organizers and education advocates from California, Colorado, Georgia, Illinois, Mississippi, New York, North Carolina, Oregon and Pennsylvania converged in Washington, DC for the Dignity in Schools Days at the Capitol 2011.
Despite fears of a possible government shutdown due to a partisan budget battle, members and supporters of the Dignity in Schools Campaign traveled from far and wide to meet with fellow education advocates, share their stories, and make their voices heard on Capitol Hill.
The delegations from 9 different states included members of the Philadelphia Student Union, Padres y Jovenes Unidos, Restorative Schools Vision Project (RSVP), Gwinnett STOPP, SNAPPS, COFI, CADRE and many more, who are working on a local and national level to ensure that all young people are guaranteed the human right to an equal and high quality education.
The 2011 Days at the Capitol began with a Prep Day on Monday, April 11, where during breakfast each delegation shared their experiences, challenges and successes. Throughout the day participants – together with a fantastic team of moderators made up of members of the NAACP Legal Defense Fund, CADRE and the Dignity in Schools Campaign – discussed the much needed policy changes in public education for their communities, compared their legislative strategies and talking points, and formulated the specific asks that they would bring to their Representatives and Senators.
Lawmakers in Washington, DC are currently discussing proposals for the reauthorization of the Elementary and Secondary Education Act (ESEA) that would limit federal accountability to the bottom 5% of low-performing schools and those with the largest achievement gaps among racial and other subgroups. Limiting accountability to this small percentage of schools would leave 95% of our schools exempt from federal oversight. If approved, these proposals could bring us dangerously close to pre-1965 (the year ESEA was enacted) levels where there was no federal accountability of public schools.
One of the main asks that the delegations brought to their members of congress was to demand that the reauthorization of the ESEA preserve meaningful federal accountability for 100% of our public schools and provide supportive, not punitive measures – such as Restorative Justice practices and Positive Behavioral Interventions and Supports – to improve learning environments and ensure the academic achievement of all young people.
Thankfully, there was no government shutdown, and despite ongoing budget negotiations, on Tuesday and Wednesday each state delegation successfully visited the offices of their respective members of Congress and Senators. Education advocates such as Shawna Hayes-Tavares of Atlanta, GA; Akimba Byrd of Raleigh, NC; Sheila Warren of Portland, OR; Eric and Candace of Philadelphia, PA; Richard Jaffee Cohen of Sacramento, CA; and many more, were able to speak to lawmakers on behalf of their communities to promote positive models to improve school climate and to demand an end to zero tolerance measures and exclusionary policies that disproportionately affect Black, Latino and LGBT youth and students with disabilities.
This was only the beginning, but what a great start it was.
Visit the Dignity in Schools Flickr to see photos from the DSC Days at the Capitol 2011
Click here to read about the DSC Days at The Capitol of 2010.
Click here to read a recent commentary in Ed Week on zero-tolerance discipline.