The D.C. chapter of the American Civil Liberties Union and eight youth advocacy organizations are calling on school and city officials to take action against schools that have kicked students out of school for misbehaving but did not record those absences as suspensions.
The organizations, which have formed a group called the Every Student, Every Day Coalition, issued a list of demands, which include an audit of suspension records and legislation to ban the use of “do not admit” lists. The move comes after The Washington Post reported that at least seven of the District’s 18 high schools underreported suspensions.
D.C. Public Schools reported that suspensions dropped 40 percent from 11,078 in 2013-2014 to 6,695 in 2015-2016, but some education advocates are questioning whether DCPS is truly doing a better job keeping students in class.
The Post found that during at least the past two years, some schools sent daily messages to staff listing students who had misbehaved and were not permitted to enter the building, according to emails The Post obtained under the Freedom of Information Act. But attendance records show that only a fraction of those cases were recorded as suspensions.
Some students barred from school were marked as present, while others were marked as attending an “in-school activity” or absent without an excuse.
“These practices are incredibly disturbing, disappointing, and disheartening. Suspensions discourage and disconnect students from educators, making school dropout and failure much more likely,” the coalition of advocacy organizations said in a statement. “Undocumented suspensions allow schools to push students out of the classroom and school building without notice, process, review, or regard to DC and federal law.”
DCPS officials said they are examining data from the schools where suspensions appear to have been underreported: Cardozo Education Campus, Dunbar High, Washington Metropolitan High, Coolidge High, Eastern High, Luke C. Moore High and Woodson High.
But the organizations want Chancellor Antwan Wilson to go further and conduct a full audit of all DCPS schools and correct any discipline or attendance records that were not appropriately documented. The organizations also want Wilson to ensure that all students barred from school are marked as suspended, and asked that he monitor schools to ensure they are not underreporting suspensions.
A DCPS spokeswoman said the school system had no comment on the organization’s demands and referred The Post to previous statements from Wilson and Jane Spence, the school system’s deputy chief of secondary schools. Spence previously characterized any underreporting as limited to a fraction of the district’s 115 schools, and did not commit to a full review of the system’s suspensions.
“I don’t want to condemn the vast majority of our schools based on the actions of a few,” she said.
Wilson, who became chancellor in February, stood by the school system’s data.
“We are proud of the 40 percent reduction in suspensions that we have seen, especially at schools that use restorative practices, and we will ensure that every student is in school or formally suspended,” he said.
The ACLU and other organization also asked that the D.C. Council take action. They want David Grosso (I-At Large), chairman of the Education Committee, to hold a public hearing on the issue and pass legislation setting out how suspensions should be recorded.
In an interview this month, Grosso said he was concerned that some schools were not properly documenting suspensions, and may introduce legislation to address inaccurate reporting. On Thursday he plans to host the first of four meetings with DCPS, charter school officials and several advocacy groups to discuss suspensions and other discipline practices.
“Our students and their families deserve better from our schools,” the organizations said. “We call on Chancellor Wilson and other District officials to take swift action and affirm that DCPS schools will not turn its back on the students and families of the District of Columbia.”