D.C. Council member David Grosso, chairman of the Education Committee, said he plans to introduce legislation to reduce student suspensions and ensure that schools are accurately tracking the number of students barred from class for disciplinary problems.
Possible measures include limiting the number of suspension days students can receive and banning the use of “do not admit” lists, which are sometimes used to bar students from school even when they are not officially considered suspended. Another potential proposal would allow zero-tolerance policies that lead to automatic suspensions only in cases involving physical injuries.
On Thursday, Grosso (I-At Large) presented his ideas to a group of educators and advocates for feedback before he introduces a bill to the council this fall.
“We have made some progress on discipline in the District,” Grosso told the representatives of 25 school and advocacy organizations. “But we still have a long way to go.”
District public charter and traditional schools have reported a drop in suspensions in the past three years as schools attempt to turn to less-punitive punishments for misbehavior. But education advocates continue to raise concerns about schools suspending students for minor infractions and for kicking students out of school without properly documenting the suspension.
D.C. Public Schools reported a 40 percent drop in suspensions from 11,078 in 2013-2014 to 6,695 in 2015-2016. But many of the education advocates at Thursday’s meeting questioned if those numbers are valid.
Earlier this week, The Washington Post reported that at least seven of the District’s 18 high schools underreported suspensions. During at least the past two years, the schools sent daily messages to staff listing students who had misbehaved and were not permitted to enter the building, according to emails that 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.
The Washington Post was unable to do a similar review of charter school suspensions because they are not subject to open-records laws. The charter sector has reported a more modest decrease in suspensions — at 13 percent — compared with DCPS’s 40 percent reduction in the past three years.
Patrice Wedderburn, an attorney with Advocates for Justice and Education, called Grosso’s recommendations a great first start.
“Ideally, we also want to see a ban on suspensions for nonviolent offenses,” Wedderburn said.
Advocates for Justice and Education is part of a coalition of nine organizations that has asked for a thorough review of DCPS’s suspension numbers and legislation setting out how suspensions should be recorded.
Earlier this week, DCPS officials stood by the school system’s data. A DCPS representative also lauded the school system’s 40 percent reduction in suspensions at the meeting with Grosso on Thursday.
Grosso plans to hold at least three more meetings with the 25 school and advocacy officials before introducing legislation in mid-September.
“People are trying to do better every day,” Grosso said. “But at some point, we need to say we are back up front and doing better on this issue than any other jurisdiction in the country.”