The Wilson Beacon

City council restricts DCPS suspension use

www.davidgrosso.org

www.davidgrosso.org

Ellida Parker

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A bill limiting the use of suspensions in DC Public Schools passed the City Council unanimously this month. The Students Fair Access to School Act, authored by Councilmember David Grosso, bans suspensions in high schools for minor offenses, limits all suspensions to ten days, and requires the institution of a “reintegration” plan to help the student transition back to school.

The legislation has emerged amidst a citywide move away from suspensions. “The downstream impact of suspensions, which is pushing more and more students out of school and towards criminal behavior, is not the path we want to take as a city,” said Grosso in an interview with The Beacon.

The disparity in suspension rates between students of color and white students was one of the primary motivations behind the bill, according to Grosso. A report released by the Office of the State Superintendent this year revealed that Black students were eight times more likely to be suspended than their white counterparts, mostly due to subjective criteria for suspensions in cases of minor offenses, like talking back in class or violating dress codes. 61 percent of students who were disciplined with out-of-school suspensions at Wilson this school year have been Black, compared to just 14 percent who were white.

The bill does not present significant implications for Wilson, because Wilson already refrains from suspending students for minor offenses. “We cut those out already. We only suspend for drug use and violence,” said Principal Kimberly Martin. “I deeply believe that suspensions are racially biased, that they have agendas and motivations that are against the best interests of students,” said Martin.

Martin added, however, that she does not feel that the city government should be dictating to schools how they should discipline their students. “I also trust administrators, that they’re making the right decisions, and I don’t think that that decision should be taken out of their hands,” said Martin.

Grosso drafted the legislation with input from teachers, parents, and administrators whom he consulted at a series of meetings and hearings over the summer of 2017. While the bill prohibits suspensions entirely in elementary and middle schools except in cases when the student is a danger to other students, the Council did not feel that it would be plausible to ban all suspensions in high schools. “As older kids are in school, they tend to have more agency over their own decisions and you need to have more clear consequences for them. The fact is, sometimes those students need a cooling off period,” Grosso said.

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City council restricts DCPS suspension use