Bringing Dignity to Schools

This blog post was written by LEV Organizer Andaiye Qaasim.

“Our nation’s ‘dropout’ crisis is in reality a ‘pushout’ crisis.” You may already be familiar with this phrase made popular by the Dignity in Schools Campaign. If not, you are most likely familiar with the federal investigation into Seattle Public Schools focusing on the disparate use of discipline against students of color and the 2012 Washington Appleseed Report on the economic and educational costs of exclusionary discipline in Washington state. Disproportionality in school discipline for Washington mirrors many of the larger ills around school climate and discipline nationwide. Across the U.S., over 3 million students receive out-of-school suspensions each year. Students of color, special education students, foster and homeless youth, and LGBTQ youth are targeted the most. Exclusionary discipline practices push youth out of school and put youth in vulnerable positions that can lead to poverty, unemployment, and incarceration. When we take a closer look at low graduation rates across the country it is clear that students are not dropping out on their own accord, but that they are being pushed out of school by harsh and punitive discipline policies.

The Dignity in Schools Campaign (DSC) sees this as a national crisis and challenges the systemic issues around school pushout. DSC is a coalition of over 60 organizations from 20 states made up of youth, parents, educators, advocates, grassroots groups, policy groups and legal groups working to end school pushout; stop student suspensions and arrests; and implement approaches that keep schools safe and healthy. This inspirational coalition brings equal voice to all of its members, with a high priority given to youth of color and parents.

Recently, DSC held its annual conference from March 1st-March 5th in Washington D.C. This conference was a work intensive weekend of workshops, teambuilding, strategy sessions, and advocacy skill-building which culminated in a youth-led rally/direct action, and a team of DSC representatives lobbying at the Capitol. Below is a list of the legislation that DSC is asking Congress to support:

  • The Restorative Justice in Schools Act (H.R. 415)
  • The Positive Behavior for Safe and Effective Schools Act (H.R. 3165)
  • The Mental Health in Schools Act (S. 195)
  • The Successful, Safe, and Healthy Students Act (S. 919)
  • Youth PROMISE Act (H.R. 2721)

As we learn from the work of DSC, and are inspired by their youth-led, grassroots advocacy, we can also work on our own home front. We must remember to keep the heat on the bills in the State Senate and House that are moving forward to address disproportionality in school discipline. SB 5244 and HB 1680 are alive and moving forward in the state legislature. Please write your senator or representative to encourage support for these bills. Together, we can all bring dignity back to our schools.

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