In recent years, advocates have been calling for changes to school discipline policies to help drive down the use of exclusionary discipline, like suspensions, and to reduce racial disparities in discipline rates.
Some of that work has been credited for changes made at the local, state , and federal levels. But advocates say data from the U.S. Department of Education’s office for civil rights shows that much work remains to be done.
But will injecting more student voices into the debate cause policy makers to adopt more changes?
DoSomething.org, the site that engages young people in crowd-sourced campaigns, is giving it a shot. The website is giving students a platform to tweet “real, powerful stories” of school discipline to their states’ boards of education. The site—topped with pictures of students holding handwritten stories of suspensions—plans to share a new story every day from April 27 to May 1 in partnership with the Dignity in Schools Campaign, a coalition of student advocacy groups.
“When students publicly express frustration about excessive and unfair school punishment, schools are likelier to listen and make real changes,” says the DoSomething.org, which is also entering students who join the campaign to win scholarships.
But is it that easy?
I’m curious how and if the website will verify students’ stories. Schools frequently cite federal privacy laws when they refuse to comment on student disciplinary incidents, which can cause some to doubt the credibility of stories. And it’s not like policymakers haven’t heard from students at all to this point. I regularly attend briefings on Capitol Hill in which students share stories of their time on what they call the “school-to-prison pipeline.” And there are no shortage of similar efforts on the local level. But who knows if one powerful tweet will cause a state policymaker to rethink a position on an issue.
Still, the campaign may have another effect. Though not expressed as one of its goals, I suspect the tweets will raise awareness of the school discipline debate among students. You might remember a previous DoSomething.org campaign centered on school lunches, which stirred up student interest by asking them to post meal photos that their peers later ranked as “Eat it” or “Toss it.” Here’s what I said about that campaign in a previous blog post:
I would also add that healthier lunches and lunches that draw fewer complaints from kids may not be the same thing. Following the implementation of rules under the Healthy, Hunger-Free Kids Act, districts around the country complained that kids who longed for the glory days of rectangular slices of pizza were tossing their kale and black beans straight into the trash. Still others defend the new policy, saying districts have to find the sweet spot where they are complying with new rules while also appealing to their students' palates. So there aren't easy answers. But Fed Up does seem to have some admirable goals. It's made students more aware of what they are eating and why, and it has probably put some pressure on district-level school lunch program administrators who haven't thought outside of the box (or the can)."
Will the suspension campaign lead to similar interest from students? And will that interest translate into greater engagement in policy discussions? I guess we’ll see.
A version of this news article first appeared in the Rules for Engagement blog.