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Two States Receive Grants to Reform Discipline Policies

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By guest blogger Alyssa Morones

Oregon and Virginia's state boards of education will both receive grants to improve their ability to adopt and implement positive school discipline policies that limit punitive and exclusionary practices, such as suspension or expulsion.

Both states will receive $5,000 each in grants from the National Association of State Boards of Education, as a project examining state disciplinary policies, practices, and reforms and school systems' relationships with law-enforcement agencies. The association selected states that are making changes to improve school climate and discipline in at least one a variety of areas, including school safety and law enforcement, discriminatory discipline, teacher training, and chronic absenteeism and student engagement.

While the grantees were selected by the Arlington, Va.-based National Association of State Boards of Education, the grant program is funded by the Atlantic Philanthropies, which also helps support coverage of school climate issues in Education Week.

The grant to Oregon's state board will be used to convene a statewide task force. The task force will develop a plan to help local districts identify, prevent, and address discriminatory discipline practices and the impact that these have on students' academic achievement and development. In partnership with the state department of education, school districts, and scholars, the state board will develop data-based strategies for integrating restorative justice practices into existing behavior-management frameworks.

Virginia will use the grant to address chronic student absenteeism and disengagement through problem-solving and prevention methods, in place of punitive ones. School districts across the state will use these guidelines to address behavior problems in ways that are more constructive.

The grants are intended to address inflexible zero-tolerance policies that often take decisionmaking responsibilities out of the hands of educators at the school level.

"This has led to far too many suspensions, expulsions, and referrals to the criminal justice system overall—and the students affected have been disproportionately students of color and those with disabilities," said Kristen Amundson, NASBE's executive director, in a press release. "The work of these state boards is intended to promote best practices in disciplinary policies that are equitable and result both in safer schools and more students staying in school."

This is just one more in a recent wave of efforts to reshape school discipline policies in ways that are less punitive and more effective. These efforts promote keeping students out of the juvenile justice systems, which have been shown in studies to increase learning loss, as a main goal.

Just yesterday, the Council of State Governments released a report on strategies for reforming and improving behavior-problem management. Earlier this year, the federal government unveiled new recommended disciplinary guidelines addressing discrimination and suspension.

The association is currently looking to give a third grant to a state attempting to directly address school climate and safety.

"We're hoping that this third state will look at the intersection of discipline, safety, defining the roll of law enforcement and school administrations and teachers, in a way that promotes a safe and supportive school climate while not contributing to school-based arrests and referrals," explained Kimberly Charis, the project director of the Center for Safe and Healthy Schools with NASBE.

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