On July 25 and 26, students, parents, educators, and advocates from 11 states, representing 26 different organizations, traveled to Washington, D.C. for two days of meetings with Members of Congress to raise awareness and build support for urgently needed school discipline reform. The trip to Washington came less than a week after the release of an alarming study on school discipline by the Council of State Governments Justice Center (CSG) and an announcement by the U.S. Departments of Education and Justice that they will form a joint Supportive School Discipline Initiative to address the ‘school-to-prison pipeline’.
The Council of State Governments study found that nearly 60% of all students in Texas public schools were suspended or expelled at least once between the 7th and 12th grades. These high rates of exclusion are consistent with increasingly punitive practices being used across the country. In New York City public schools, for example, the number of students receiving suspensions in a single school year increased from 28,500 in 2001-02, to nearly 74,000 in 2008-2009. The Texas study also reflects national data, which shows that students of color and students with disabilities receive the highest rates of suspension and expulsion for minor infractions.
“The data from the Council on State Governments is representative of situations across this country where students of color and special education students are being impacted negatively by the zero tolerance policies now in place. These policies, and the damage they cause, affect all students by not allowing them to live up to their full potential and creating a school climate that resembles that of a prison instead of an institution of learning,” said Joyce Parker, of Mississippi Delta Catalyst Roundtable and Equal Voices for Americas Families. “We welcome this new study as an important resource. Our leaders in Congress now have supporting data to influence their decisions on behalf of positive changes in our schools.”
While in DC, members of the Dignity in Schools Campaign (DSC) met with their Members of Congress to advocate for funding and technical assistance for school districts to help reduce suspensions and expulsions by implementing positive approaches to discipline like Restorative Justice Practices and School wide Positive Behavior Supports (SWPBS). Members of the DSC also met with Dept. of Justice officials to discuss the "Supportive School discipline Initiative" – an inter-agency collaboration with the U.S. Dept. of Education to address the disciplinary policies and practices that push students out of school.
On Capitol Hill, some Congressional leaders are taking steps to address these issues. In thgencies to use Elementary and Secondary Education Act (ESEA) funding for key school personnel such as teachers ane Senate, Senator Tom Harkin (D-IA), has introduced a revision of the Safe and Drug-Free Schools Act, entitled the Successful, Safe, and Healthy Students Act (S. 919), that would provide funding for efforts to promote physical and mental health, address bullying and harassment, counter school violence and drug-use, and improve school climate through positive approaches like Restorative Justice Practices and SWPBS. On the House side, congressman Steve Cohen (D-TN) has introduced the Restorative Justice in Schools Act (H.R. 415) which would allow local education ad counselors to acquire training in restorative justice and conflict resolution, and congressman Phil Hare (D-IL) introduced the Positive Behavior for Safe and Effective Schools Act (H.R. 2597) which would allow school districts to use ESEA funding to train teachers and counselors in restorative justice and conflict resolution and help save countless hours lost to school discipline each school year.
Photos from the DSC Days at the Capitol: Click here to view.
Media Coverage from the Days at the Capitol:
"In Washington, Youth Advocates Call on Congress to Address the School to Prison Pipeline" by Alice Ollstein (Free Speech Radio News, July 29, 2011): Youth advocates from across the country met with lawmakers on Capitol Hill this week to demand they address the so-called “school to prison pipeline.” Alice Ollstein reports.