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The Absolute Best School Climate Blogging (This Week): Suspend Suspensions Edition

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Happy Friday, Rules readers. Before I share some good reads from around the web with you, let's discuss a few questions.

Could the federal government take a more active role in encouraging schools to reduce the use of suspensions and other exclusionary discipline? Should it?

rules-abscb.jpgU.S. Sen. Bob Casey, D-Penn., introduced this week the Keep Kids in School Act, which would introduce a variety of new accountability measures and supports with the aim of driving down suspension rates.

"Many of our schools are taking substantial steps to reduce the number of suspensions. This legislation will give more schools the tools they need to keep children in the place that is most likely to lead to a successful life—the classroom," Casey said in a statement. "Over the course of one school year, the number of children suspended could fill the seats at Heinz Field nearly 54 times. That's far too many."

Heinz Field is the 65,000-seat stadium where the Pittsburgh Steelers play. The most recent data available from the U.S. Department of Education's office for civil rights shows that 1.9 million students received one out-of-school suspension during the 2011-12 school year, and 1.55 million were suspended multiple times, so Casey's got his numbers about right.

And, as civil rights and student groups consistently highlight, students with disabilities and those from minority racial and ethnic groups are suspended at higher rates than their peers. Here's a chart from the office for civil rights that shows the disparities, which are pretty familiar to regular readers of Rules for Engagement.


Here's Casey's summary of the bill's requirements:

  • Asks states and school districts to prioritize plans to reduce suspensions and expulsions, particularly in schools with high numbers of suspensions and expulsions and wide disparities in them.
  • Clarifies that states and school districts can use their Title II federal resources for professional development to train and support teachers, principals, and other school staff on evidence based practices and support systems that improve school climate and reduce the number of suspensions and expulsions.
  • Codifies a uniform definition of suspension and expulsion for public schools. These definitions are already used by the Office for Civil Rights (OCR) in the Department of Education.
  • Asks schools to report annually on things like the number of suspensions and expulsions broken down by grade, race, and disability category. While the vast majority of this data is already collected annually because of the Individuals with Disabilities Education Act, or biannually through OCR regulation, this would codify the requirement.
  • Provides additional resources and technical support for implementing professional development for school districts that are struggling with high numbers and disparities of suspensions and expulsions.

Casey has an ongoing interest in school climate and discipline issues. In January, he reintroduced the Safe Schools Improvement Act, which deals with bullying.

Here are some other great reads on school climate and student well-being. This week, we read about truancy laws, incarcerated parents, school police, an unusual dress code violation, and more.

Do criminal penalties reduce truancy?

"Absence from school is an undeniable problem. We know it is correlated with lower grades, with dropping out of high school, and with trouble with the law. What is less certain is if treating truancy as a crime addresses these underlying issues in an effective and reasonable way."
—The Marshall Project takes a look at the effectiveness of truancy laws. For more on this, read my post on some Texas research released this week.

On the effects of parental incarceration on their kids...

"Most kids feel it has to be kept a secret. If you have to keep a secret all the time, it makes everything else in school a lot harder."
—Sarah Sparks explores the issue, and the education implications, in this article.

One year of progress...

"Great efforts are underway in communities across the country—but our young people still face great challenges. To truly change the face of opportunity in this country—to truly make the bounty of America available to the many, and not just the few—we must replicate and expand what's working."
—Arne Duncan blogs about the report on the results of the first year of My Brother's Keeper.

A balance of accountability and privacy...

"People tend to be on their best behavior when they know they're being recorded."
—I take a closer look at privacy concerns sparked by body cameras on school police.

Speaking of school police...

"In a country where we're talking about arming teachers, Baltimore has decided to disarm the police. It's crazy."
—The Baltimore Sun covers a debate over whether school police there should carry guns.

Fifty Shades of No Way...

"One of the teachers went dressed as Dexter, and I don't see why sex is seen as more offensive than murder."
—A school sent a child home when he dressed like the main character from Fifty Shades of Gray for a spirit day.

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