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School Discipline Is Racially Biased. That’s Why Seattle Is Banning Some Suspensions.

(AP Photo/Jose F. Moreno)
(AP Photo/Jose F. Moreno)

(Slate) – Washington state’s education system has made national news several times in the past few months, mostly for not-awesome reasons: First, a court ordered the Legislature to pay $100,000 a day into a special education fund for failing to fund K–12 adequately; second, and semirelatedly, teachers in the state’s largest school district, Seattle, went on strike for eight days over cost-of-living raises and test-score-based teacher evaluations, among other issues.

But now, finally, there is some bright news out of Washington schools, partially as a result of strike negotiations: Last week, the Seattle School Board unanimously approved a one-year ban on out-of-school suspensions for elementary school students accused of nonviolent offenses like disruptive behavior and general disobedience. These infractions constitute roughly three-quarters of elementary school suspensions; the other quarter—for “assault, fighting, and threats of violence”—are all “considered exceptional misconduct and warrant an immediate suspension,” according to a Seattle Times report on the resolution.

The Seattle board’s decision to test out this ban stems from research that showed that suspensions reflect racial and socioeconomic divides, with nonwhite students disciplined at dramatically higher rates than their white classmates. From a lengthy report earlier this summer in the Seattle Times:

In Washington and nationally, schools have begun to reconsider their discipline policies because removing students from school rarely leads to improvements in behavior, and because the skew in suspension rates mirrors that achievement between students of different races.

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