Councilman Grosso’s bid to manage D.C. public schools

Yesterday, At-Large D.C. Councilman David Grosso introduced the Student Fair Access to School Act of 2017.  The bill would:

  • Limit the use of suspension and expulsion in kindergarten through 8th grade to instances of physical and emotional injury, whether actual, attempted, or threatened.
  • Ban suspensions in high school for minor incidents like disobedience or uniform violations.
  • Require schools–both DCPS and charters–to have discipline policies that avoid exclusion, address bias, and seek the root causes of misbehavior.

In yesterday’s press release Mr. Grosso provides the reasoning behind the legislation:

“According to the Office of the State Superintendent of Education, over 7,000 D.C. students—about 1 in 10 kindergarten through 12th grade students—were suspended or expelled during the 2015-2016 school year.  OSSE also found that African-American students in D.C. are seven times more likely to be suspended than their peers and students who are economically disadvantaged, receiving special education services, or at-risk of academic failure were twice as likely to get sent home.”  According to the Councilman,  “We know how negatively suspensions and expulsions affect the students pushed out of school—they are more likely to fail academically, to drop out, and to end up involved in the criminal justice system.  We need to change our approach to set every student up for academic success.”

Although Mr. Grosso states that he has been working on this since last July, and that “over 25 charter LEAs and DCPS have weighed in, and I have spoken directly with teachers, school leaders, parents, students, advocates, lawyers, researchers, and other experts about the language in the bill,” the reaction against it by Scott Pearson, the executive director of the DC Public Charter School Board, and Antwan Wilson, DCPS Chancellor, was swift and unequivocal.  In a joint statement issued on the same day that Mr. Grosso made his announcement they write:

“We’re all united in the common mission of equipping our students with the knowledge, skills, and tools they need to contribute to our community and lead productive, vibrant lives. We want all children to be in school every day, but when suspensions are necessary, school leaders are the best experts in making discipline decisions.”

“School leaders must make discipline decisions every day, considering the affected student, classmates, and the school community. These decisions are made with careful consideration by experienced educators who are closest to the situation and who best know all the individuals involved.”

“Our city should support schools in tackling the underlying issues facing students, rather than mandating a one-size-fits-all-approach.”

“We have worked hard to address suspensions in a thoughtful way. Over the past five years, suspensions have fallen nearly 5 percentage points in both DCPS and public charter schools. This is the result of leadership at the school level, attention from education leaders, and the desire to make good on our promises to educate and equip students for the future. Early numbers this year show the trend continuing.”

“We believe addressing factors outside of the school building would yield results that are more meaningful, more authentic, and less counterproductive than legislative restrictions on school disciplinary practices.”

For all of us who feel passionately about school, sector, and parental autonomy this would be a perfect time to contact Mr. Grosso’s office.  The telephone number is 202-724-8105.

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