It will take hard work on the part of teachers, staff and community members, but the Clarke County School District can overcome and change discipline practices that disproportionately affect students of color and special education students. They can do so by following the Marshall Plan for School Discipline, which comes with changes in policies, programs and personnel.
Suspending students harms academic performance and achievement and doesn’t improve behavior, research has shown. The students who are struggling academically are those who are most likely to be suspended.
That was the message consultant Richard Welsh delivered at the Board of Education’s work session Thursday, June 4. Now a professor at New York University, Welsh was with UGA’s College of Education when he started looking at public school discipline data in Clarke County. His latest analysis represents a deeper dive into five years of numbers, as well as interviews with “district and school leaders,” observations and school visits.
Communities have become comfortable with school discipline mirroring the criminal justice system, he said, but both need reforming.
Welsh said Clarke County is similar to other urban school districts in many ways—with a majority of female elementary school principals—but in one way it is markedly different: The majority of elementary school principals, 57%, are African American. Although Welsh won’t submit a final report until July, here are a few highlights:
• Clarke County students lost 48,859 days of instruction to suspensions.
• Of the students referred or disciplined, 81% were African American, 67% were male, 9% were homeless and 29% were students with disabilities. Of the entire student population, 50% are African American, 52% are male, 5% are homeless and 14% are students with disabilities.
• Schools with male principals see more in-school and out-of-school suspensions than those with female principals.
• Changing principals doesn’t help. Schools with new leaders, either principals or assistant principals, have more in-school and out-of-school suspensions. New assistant principals at elementary schools are more likely to use out-of-school suspensions for subjective offenses, since elementary schools don’t do in-school suspension.
• Welsh recommends changing policies to prohibit suspending younger (kindergarten to 2nd grade) children unless there is a physical injury, and to prohibit all out-of-school suspensions for subjective offenses for elementary, middle and high school students.
• He wants to prohibit out-of-school suspension of high schoolers for attendance violations and dress code violations.
• And he wants in-school suspension to be “more welcoming and therapeutic” with lots of academic support. A behavior interventionist should help monitor students attending in-school suspension. And Local School Governance Teams at schools where students are often suspended should allocate some of their funds to help reform school discipline.
In other business, CCSD is surveying parents about returning to school in August, while administrators also plan for the possibility of continued distance learning in the fall. Academic Director Brannon Gaskins said a measure is under consideration to use “diagnostic assessments,” like those administered to the students twice a year, to design computerized “personalized learning” for each student. A teacher and a parent could monitor the student, he said.
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