To the Editor:
First it was young Ahmed Mohamed, the precocious student clockmaker who was sent home from school as a possible bomb-maker. Now it is the South Carolina student who was thrown across a classroom for the crime of allegedly not putting away her cellphone fast enough. The news cycle moves on, but the issue of disparate discipline is not going away.
More than 3.5 million students received in-school suspensions in 2011-2012—more than were enrolled as high school seniors. Black students, students with disabilities, and those who identify as lesbian, gay, bisexual, or transgender are disproportionately more likely to get suspended than other students. Further, minority students and those with special needs tend to face harsher discipline than their peers for the same offense. A recent report by the National Association of State Boards of Education, where I work, highlights how states and districts can reduce discipline disparities:
• Look at data to find root problems. If a student had no discipline referrals last year but already has seven this year, then perhaps something else is going on.
• Involve community partners. Partnerships among educators, the courts, law enforcement, health agencies, and the juvenile-justice system can bring resources to bear on problems that have their origins in the community.
• Focus on school climate. Carencro High School, in Lafayette, La., reports that increased training for staff members, support for freshmen, and intensive counseling reduced suspensions and increased the number of freshmen passing first-year math.
I am as strong a supporter as anyone of the need to keep children safe in schools. But I also know that it is possible to strike a balance between student safety and common sense.
National Association of State Boards of Education
The author is a former chair of the Fairfax County, Va., school board.
A version of this article appeared in the December 02, 2015 edition of Education Week as Disparate Discipline: Balancing Student Safety and Common Sense