#RethinkDiscipline: Students of color with disabilities can’t learn if they’re not in school

Harold Jordan, senior policy advocate at ACLU-PA, offered comment on the harsh discipline of students of color with disabilities in public schools today before the United States Commission on Civil Rights. Here is his statement.

Harold Jordan of ACLU-PA with Catherine E. Lhamon, chair of the U.S. Commission on Civil Rights, at today’s briefing on school discipline in Washington, D.C.

Thank you for this opportunity to address the Commission on a matter of great importance to students and families in Pennsylvania, the harsh discipline of students of color with disabilities in our public schools.

The American Civil Liberties Union of Pennsylvania has reviewed discipline and law enforcement data, addressed relevant policy issues, and participated in discussions with school communities and education decision-makers. I’ve had the privilege of serving on a committee of Pennsylvania’s Developmental Disabilities Council, a state agency which has provided grants to programs that address the school-to-prison pipeline’s impact on students with disabilities.

Pennsylvania’s patterns of punishment of students of color with disabilities parallels national trends:

  • Black students with disabilities receive out of school suspensions at the highest rates of any group of students. Some 22 percent of Black students with disabilities were suspended at least once. In fact, the profile of the PA student who is most likely to be suspended is a Black male student with a disability. Black and Latino students with disabilities are more likely to be suspended multiple times than any other group.
  • Roughly a dozen districts suspend between 40 percent and 75 percent of Black students with disabilities.
  • Similar patterns of punishment are reflected in contact with law enforcement and arrest.
  • Overidentification, misidentification and under-identification of students of color remains a significant problem.
  • Also problematic is the failure of schools to conduct manifestation reviews and to provide appropriate individualized education supports.

The result is the excessive punishment of students of color, especially those who have disabilities.

Parents and guardians have great difficulty exercising their rights under the Individuals with Disabilities Education Act (IDEA), the Americans with Disabilities Act (ADA), and the Rehabilitation Act. It is challenging for them to ensure that their children are treated fairly and receive constructive supports and services.

We ask the commission to:

1) Urge the U.S. Department of Education to implement the “Equity in IDEA” rule (significant disproportionality) fully and on schedule.

2) Urge local education agencies to establish protocols that address interactions between law enforcement and students with disabilities. These should:

  • Limit contact between police and students with disabilities. No elementary school student should be handed over to law enforcement.
  • Require any law enforcement working in schools to get extensive training on how to de-escalate conflicts and how to work with youth, and youth with disabilities.
  • Protect the privacy rights of students with disabilities.
  • Require training for school staff on how to better work with students of color with disabilities and de-escalate conflicts, instead of turning to law enforcement to force compliance.

3) Urge state and local education agencies to do more rigorous monitoring of the use restraint and seclusion practices, and to make that information available to the public.

New Website Explores the School-to-Prison Pipeline and How to End It

By Harold Jordan, Senior Policy Advocate, ACLU of Pennsylvania

endzerotolerance.org is a new website from the ACLU of Pennsylvania

Every day, we hear from advocates, reporters, educators, and students asking questions about how to find the best resources on some aspect of school discipline and policing. Whether from an advocate preparing testimony for a school board meeting or a reporter digging into a story when an incident occurs, folks want to know how to get accurate and up-to-date information and analysis.

Today, the American Civil Liberties Union of Pennsylvania is launching a comprehensive national website on the school-to-prison pipeline, which can be found at both www.s2pp.org and www.endzerotolerance.org.

In crafting the site, we reviewed countless requests for information and documents that have come in, especially since the publication of our report on school discipline and policing in Pennsylvania, Beyond Zero Tolerance.

This site is the place to go to get up-to-date resources and commentary on how to keep young people in school and out of the justice system. It is loaded with presentations and sample materials, and to links to videos, podcasts, policy statements, research reports, and media stories. In a few cases, we have taken official data and produced simplified spreadsheets illustrating a trend.

While reforms have been implemented in a growing number of communities, the culture spawned by “zero tolerance” remains very much alive. Today, “zero tolerance” refers to the array of policies and practices that mandate or facilitate the removal of students from school under a broad range of circumstances, not principally (or just) in response to weapons violations. Therefore, our site is named “End Zero Tolerance.”

Additional features include:

  • Q and A on school discipline and policing
  • Using Data — a guide to how to obtain and use data, plus links to summaries of recent trends
  • Policing in Schools — news and analysis plus information about students arrests and examples of policy reforms
  • Special sections for educators and for advocates on how to implement reforms
  • What’s New –a blog about recent developments and new resources

Whether you want to research the issues, or to learn about successful campaigns and local work to improve school communities, this site is a great place to start.

Rethinking School Discipline

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On Wednesday, July 22, the White House hosted Rethink School Discipline, a national convening and conversation on improving school discipline policies and practices. At the meeting, participants discussed new tools and resources to be released by the Supportive School Discipline Initiative, an interagency initiative launched by the Administration in 2011, along with data and research that underscores the need for further action. School leaders across the country came together to share best practices used to dismantle the school-to-prison pipeline by fostering safe, supportive, and productive learning environments that keep kids in school and out of the juvenile justice system.

Harold Jordan, ACLU of Pennsylvania’s Senior Policy Advocate, participated in the summit representing the Dignity in Schools Campaign. He also severed on the planning committee for the event.

Also participating were community stakeholders, including parents, advocates, national professional associations and teachers’ unions, and advocates of discipline reform. In all, about 200 educators were in attendance, including 3-person teams from 43 school districts across the country.

Learn more about the ACLU of Pennsylvania’s school discipline work!