Council Looks at Rules for Student Suspensions

By Timothy Wilson
Washington Post Staff Writer
Tuesday, December 9, 2008

When 70 students were suspended from Hart Middle School in September, D.C. Council member Marion Barry received many complaints from irate parents who had not been properly notified by the school's administration.

Barry (D-Ward 8) visited Hart days later and asked an assistant principal whether parents had been called. He said that she told him: "I didn't think about that."

As a result, Barry and council member Harry Thomas Jr. (D-Ward 5) introduced legislation last week to require uniform standards for suspension by principals in District schools.

"There seems to be a strong argument to me that there needs to be some consistency," said Chairman Vincent C. Gray (D) at a public roundtable yesterday.

The Suspension Reform Act seeks to hold principals in public schools and public charter schools accountable and to discourage suspensions for "frivolous reasons." Suspension should be a last resort, according to the bill. It would establish reporting requirements, create a civil cause of action for parents of aggrieved students, and disciplinary actions for principals authorizing unwarranted suspensions.

D.C. State Board of Education member Ted Trabue said the issue should be addressed by his board, which is responsible for approving policies for parental involvement and rules for enforcing school attendance requirements.

"I believe we have the authority," Trabue said. "We want to create the right solution."

Council members Gray, Thomas and Kwame R. Brown (D-At Large) questioned whether local education agencies would adhere to any policies developed by the State Board of Education.

Josephine Baker, executive director of the D.C. Public Charter School Board, said it would be difficult to administer a uniform standard for discipline because public charter schools are independently operated.

Baker said a collaborative approach among city officials, school administrators and parents should be used to address the issue. "The solution has to be, how do we reach parents?" she said.

Parents are supposed to be notified of a suspension through a phone call or written notice sent by certified mail no later than 24 hours after a disciplinary action has been taken.

Shanelle Spencer, whose son was one of the students suspended from Hart, said that she did not receive a phone call regarding the action and that the written notice had an upcoming suspension date.

Chad Ferguson, deputy chief of the Office of Youth Engagement for D.C. Public Schools, said a notice will be distributed Monday to all D.C. public school administrators on how to properly implement the student discipline policy.

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