Thursday, October 29, 2020
Oct. 29, 2020

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New focus: Justice vs. punishment in schools

ACLU, others present strategies on new approaches to school discipline

By , Columbian Education Reporter
Published:

When students are suspended or expelled from school, they are removed from the classroom — and often, from learning opportunities.

“What’s clear in Clark County and around the state is a lot of kids — about 4 percent — are getting suspended and expelled every year,” said Vanessa Hernandez, youth policy director, American Civil Liberties Union Washington.

That’s a lot of kids who are punished for their actions by being separated from their learning environment. A new state law geared to implement restorative practices, rather than punitive practices in school discipline, was one of the topics Hernandez and others presented at a Positive Approaches to School Discipline event Tuesday night at Clark College.

About 150 teachers, juvenile justice professionals, parents and community members gathered to learn about implementing restorative practices, rather than punitive practices in school discipline.

Representatives from American Civil Liberties Union Washington and Black Lives Matter Vancouver also provided tips for parents to advocate for children who are suspended or expelled.

Did You Know?

• During the 2014-2015 school year, 3.9 percent of K-12 students in Washington were suspended or expelled from school. Of all white students, 3.3 percent were suspended or expelled compared with 8.6 percent of black students; 7.5 percent of American Indians; 4.5 percent of Hispanics or Latinos; 5.4 percent of Pacific Islanders; 1.2 percent of Asians and 5 percent of multiracial students.

Nationwide, statewide and locally, statistics show that black, Latino, Pacific Islander and Native American students have greater suspension or expulsion rates compared with white or Asian students. The percentages are also greater for students with disabilities, Hernandez said.

“The data shows that suspension and expulsion doesn’t work,” Hernandez said. “Kids are getting expelled from school over and over again. The reason we’re doing this, presumably, is to change behavior, but kids are not changing their behavior. I think we have a lot of work to do to shift toward evidence-based strategies that keep kids in school, learning.”

New law addresses issue

Statistics show that students who are suspended or expelled have higher drop-out rates. After they are removed from school for their actions, it’s hard to return.

“The term ‘school-to-prison pipeline’ is increasingly apt,” Hernandez said. Students who are separated from school and are held in juvenile detention often end up being incarcerated as adults.

She emphasize that schools should have resources for enough school counselors to prevent discipline problems in the first place, rather than putting the money into more school police officers.

Substitute House Bill 1541, which went into effect June 9, will soon play out in schools. Here are the four key points of the new law:

• The new law limits behaviors that can be punished with long-term suspensions.

• It limits the length of long-term suspensions and expulsions. In the past, students could be expelled for as long as one calendar year. Now the maximum time a student can be suspended or expelled is one academic term, either a quarter, semester or trimester, depending upon the school district.

• It requires a re-engagement meeting for long-term suspensions or expulsions to make a plan for the student to return to school. Before, the meeting was optional.

• The district must continue to provide an education to the student who is suspended or expelled.

Hernandez cited a range of restorative practices that are being implemented in schools. She cited the importance of understanding the reasons or motivation behind behavior and helping students understand the harm or results of their behavior, and of the student making amends in some way.

“It’s an emphasis on addressing needs, responsibility and healing harm — rather than focusing on punishing wrong,” Hernandez said.

“This idea of wholeness is what brought me to the table,” said Cecelia Towner, of Black Lives Matter Vancouver. “I’d like restorative justice to be in our schools, our communities and our families. We’re trying to bring supports together so we as a community are stronger. That’s a tribal mindset. That one little piece can change the world.”

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