Advocates pointed to research that shows black and Latino students and students with disabilities are more likely to be suspended and more likely to be punished harshly compared to other students for the same infractions. The research also shows the connection between school punishment and students entering the juvenile justice system. The groups said students who need to spend the most time in class are losing it at an alarming rate.
“At a time when we should be expanding learning opportunities for all young people, we are cutting classroom time for those who need it most,” said Jermaine Banks, a student organizer with Power U Center for Social Change in Miami, in a statement. “The harsh discipline policies now in place around the country do not make schools safer nor improve academic achievement, but instead feed the school-to-prison pipeline.”
The groups have created a website, stopsuspensions.org, which asks district leaders, community members and students to sign a pledge for a year not to suspend students out of school.
Dignity in Schools has also launched their Model Code on Education and Dignity (PDF) to show schools alternatives to zero-tolerance discipline policies that rely heavily on out-of-school suspensions and expulsions to address student behavior.
“If we know there are alternatives out there, … we would be foolish to not try them,” said Tina Dove, the director of programs for the National Opportunity to Learn Campaign, which is endorsing the moratorium. “Ultimately the goal should be… keeping kids in the school house and not in the jailhouse. It’s just that simple.”
In response, American Federation of Teachers President Randi Weingarten said in a statement that her organization supports the initiative and will establish a leadership committee to lead the union’s response.
“Children cannot learn if they are not in the classroom. Nor can they or their peers learn, or teachers teach, in a school environment that is not safe, stable and engaging,” she said in the statement. “The Solutions Not Suspensions coalition is boldly shining a light on a problem that is discussed too little and ignored too often.”