David Grosso
D.C. Council member David Grosso

D.C. is one step closer to eschewing the use of exclusionary discipline practices — including suspensions and expulsions — against school students, thanks to the unanimous approval of legislation pushed by a city council member.

The council’s education committee approved on Tuesday, March 20 the Student Fair Access to School Act of 2017, which was introduced in November by Council member David Grosso (I-At Large) to “disrupt the school-to-prison pipeline.”

“Every student has a right to an education, of which suspensions and expulsions deprive them,” Grosso said. “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.

“One of my first acts as a council member was to require that OSSE collect and report data on suspensions and expulsions,” he said. “The latest data demonstrates that Black students are nearly eight times more likely to receive an out-of-school suspension than white students.”

Grosso said that students with disabilities are nearly twice as likely to receive at least one out-of-school suspension and at-risk students 1.5 times more likely.

“Moreover, we are seeing an increase in the use of disciplinary actions for subjective reasons,” he said. “It is unacceptable.”

The legislation would limit out-of-school suspension of students in kindergarten through eighth grade to serious safety incidents and bans its utilization in high school for minor offenses.

If exclusion becomes necessary, the bill protects a child’s right to an education while they are off premises and requires a plan for the student to successfully return to the classroom.

The Children’s Law Center urges the public to support the bill via their council members.

“At Children’s Law Center, we advocate for kids who are disproportionately impacted by school suspensions and expulsions every day — children of color, children with disabilities and children in foster care,” the center said in a statement. “We regularly serve kids who are sent home from school instead of receiving the educational supports they need to stay in the classroom and continue learning.

“Students who aren’t in school miss critical learning time and are more likely to fall behind and get poor grades, often leaving them frustrated or embarrassed,” the statement read. “In turn, these negative feelings can lead to more misbehavior, even causing students to drop out.”

The center argues that suspensions lead to higher dropout rates, increased crime, joblessness and more.

“Each time we fail a student in D.C., it impacts each citizen of the District,” the center said. “These kids have a right to be in school and learning. It is our collective responsibility to make sure they are.”

Grosso said that this collaborative legislation is the result of over a year of work, which included input from students, parents, teachers, school leaders, student and family advocates, researchers and mental health practitioners.

“I am extremely proud to see it move on to the full Council for consideration,” he said.

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Sarafina Wright –Washington Informer Staff Writer

Sarafina Wright is a staff writer at the Washington Informer where she covers business, community events, education, health and politics. She also serves as the editor-in-chief of the WI Bridge, the Informer’s...

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