Testimony at the Public Hearing on the Student Fair Access to School Act of 2017

Testimony of Shana Bartley, Acting Executive Director

DC Action for Children

Public Hearing on

B22-0594 - Student Fair Access to School Act of 2017

 

Before the Committee on Education

Council of the District of Columbia

January 30, 2018

 

DC Action for Children (DC Action) is pleased to provide written testimony in support of proposed legislation, B22-0594 the Student Fair Access to School Act of 2017. DC Action provides data analysis and policy leadership on critical issues facing DC children and youth. We are also the home of DC KIDS COUNT, an online resource accessible to policymakers and community members alike that tracks key indicators of child well-being in the District. By limiting the use of suspensions and expulsions in DC public and public charter schools, DC Action supports the Student Fair Access to School Act of 2017’s efforts to reduce the disproportionate exclusionary impact of school discipline practices on historically marginalized student groups[1] so that every student has equitable access to education.

 

Fundamentally, fair access to education requires that schools support and facilitate student learning within the classroom. When a student is suspended, they are not only denied access to classroom learning, but research indicates that the effects of out-of-school discipline build cumulatively and persist throughout a student’s academic career.[2] For example, suspended students rarely have the opportunity to make up lost instruction time and assigned work; accordingly, research indicates a link between suspensions and reduced academic achievement.[3] A study in Virginia found that schools with high suspension rates also had high dropout rates. Finally, suspensions and expulsions are correlated to youth involvement in the juvenile justice system. In fact, a compelling body of research indicates that forced removal from school doubles the likelihood of a juvenile arrest.[4] [5]

 

To attain equity and foster student achievement, school discipline practices must be nondiscriminatory, non-exclusionary and focused on supporting student learning. However, data published by the Office of the State Superintendent of Education (OSSE) indicates that policies around suspension and expulsions in DC public and public charter schools are not fully achieving this vision. This data shows that during the 2016 school year, 7,181 DC students in grades K-12 received an out-of-school suspension, representing over 7% of the enrolled student population. Furthermore, children of color, children with disabilities and children identified as at-risk[6] were the recipients of a disproportionate majority of suspensions and expulsions.

 

The disproportionate and exclusionary impact of out-of-school discipline policies on historically marginalized groups[7] cannot be understated. A growing body of research identifies such unequal suspension rates as the “hidden inequality embedded within routine educational practices” that is one of the most important factors fueling achievement gaps.[8] According to OSSE, Black students were 7.7 times more likely to receive an out-of-school suspension than white students.[9] Further signaling disproportionate impact, students with disabilities, who represent just 15% of the entire DC public and public charter student population, received almost 28% of the total share of school suspensions.[10] Finally, “at-risk” students are also overrepresented: though they make up about 50% of the enrolled student population, they receive 72% of the total number of out-of-school suspensions.[11]

 

These data make it clear that DC school leaders, administrators and teachers must prioritize alternatives to suspension and expulsion. The Pre-K Student Discipline Amendment Act of 2015’s banning of out-of-school discipline for Pre-K students[12] establishes a strong model for this proposed legislation to build upon for elementary and middle school students. Under the proposed legislation, a majority of the 9,177 DC students in Kindergarten through 8th grade who were suspended in 2016 would instead receive alternative disciplinary consequences and in-school supports.[13] We applaud the bill for also extending its reach to high school student out-of-school discipline as well. Mandating that District high school students only receive suspensions for the most serious offenses and requiring schools to develop and clearly communicate a plan for preserving the continuity of a student’s education will facilitate a less exclusionary and more child-centered approach to discipline within schools.

 

We also commend the proposed legislation’s mandate that OSSE provide trauma-informed technical assistance support to schools. We believe that the Student Fair Access to School Act of 2017 could fuel an important shift in school disciplinary culture – to one that is less punitive, more supportive and inclusive. To ensure that all schools benefit from these critical resources, DC Action recommends that the Council determine the amount of additional funding needed to bring these supports to scale across all schools. For example, OSSE has already launched a pilot program called Restorative DC to support a small group of schools to introduce restorative justice practices. Given that the proposed legislation will ban suspensions for thousands of District students each year, it is critical that alternative discipline pilots such as Restorative DC are realized within schools; without critical funding, these programs will struggle to be introduced and sustainable.

 

DC Action also urges the Council to specifically investigate in-school suspension policies and determine if they should be addressed in this proposed legislation. Because in-school suspension is not prohibited in the proposed legislation, the bill could have the unintended consequence of pushing schools—especially those that are under-resourced—to replace out-of-school suspensions with in-school suspensions. In this case, the Student Fair Access to School Act of 2017’s intent to eliminate the exclusionary effects of out-of-school suspensions would be undermined.

 

We applaud the Council for addressing the hidden inequalities embedded within school discipline practices. For every child to have fair access to their education, school discipline policies must be child-centered, promote inclusion and emphasize student learning. The Student Fair Access to School Act of 2017 takes important steps towards achieving this vision. We look forward to seeing an amended version of this bill enacted and welcome any clarifying questions.

 

 

 

 

[1] Historically marginalized groups include: students of color, students with disabilities and students identified by DC public and public charter schools as “at-risk.”

[3] Arcia, Emily. “Achievement and Enrollment Status of Suspended Students Outcomes in a Large, Multicultural School District” Education and Urban Society (2006). https://www.researchgate.net/publication/249682240_Achievement_ and_Enrollment_Status_of_Suspended_StudentsOutcomes_in_a_Large_Multicultural_School_District.

[4] American Academy of Pediatrics, Committee on School Health, "Out-of-School Suspension and Expulsion," PEDIATRICS (Vol. 112 No. 5, Nov. 2003), p. 1207. See also: Johanna Wald & Dan Losen, "Defining and Re-directing a School-to-Prison Pipeline," NEW DIRECTIONS FOR YOUTH DEVELOPMENT (No. 99, Fall 2003), p. 11.

[5] Kathryn C. Monahan, Susan VanDerhei, Jordan Bechtold, and Elizabeth Cauffman, “From the School Yard to the Squad Car: School Discipline, Truancy, and Arrest,” The Journal of Youth and Adolescence (Feb 2014).

[6] If at any point during the school year a student is enrolled in TANF or SNAP, under the care of CFSA, or homeless, the student is identified as “at-risk.”

[7] Historically marginalized groups include: students of color, students with disabilities and students identified by DC public and public charter schools as “at-risk.”

[9] State of Discipline: 2016-17 School Year. Office of the State Superintendent of Education, District of Columbia. https://osse.dc.gov/sites/default/files/dc/sites/osse/page_content/attachments/2016-17%20School%20Year%20Discipline%20Report.pdf

[10] Ibid.

[11] Ibid.

[12] The Pre-K Discipline Amendment Act of 2015 includes exceptions to this ban, including permitting Pre-K suspensions in cases of willful or attempted bodily harm.

[13] State of Discipline: 2016-17 School Year. Office of the State Superintendent of Education, District of Columbia. https://osse.dc.gov/sites/default/files/dc/sites/osse/page_content/attachments/2016-17%20School%20Year%20Discipline%20Report.pdf

Disqus comments