The Madison Metropolitan School District is weighing a moratorium on out of school suspensions for young students. The moratorium would prohibit the punitive practice for students from 4-k through fifth grade.
At a school board committee meeting yesterday, MMSD’s Coordinator of Progressive Discipline Bryn Martyna told board members that suspensions disproportionately affect students of color and students with disabilities.
“We know what our data says about suspension, we know the students that are being impacted, and we know that we have to do better if we are trying to be an anti-racist and striving to be an anti-racist organization.” said Martyna.
Data provided at the meeting showed that, in the 20-19/20-20 school year, 97 MMSD students were issued out of school suspensions. .
Of those suspended students, more than half were African American, despite the fact that African American students only make up 19% of the district’s student population. Additionally, 64% of those suspended were students with a disability, despite only making up 15% of MMSD’s population.
A study published in 20-19 by Harvard University found that suspension actually had negative impacts on students — including lower grades and poorer behaviour. Meanwhile, Schools that have limited their use of suspensions have seen an increase in both grades and graduation rates, according to school board member Savion Castro.
“I know Oakland has really led the country in terms of implementing restorative justice work and trying to root out these exclusionary punishment systems, and they’re pretty much viewed as a model. They’re been able to improve academics, graduation rates, and social and emotional student behavior.” Castro said.
Instead of simply suspending students, the school board said that there are a number of things that schools can do, including more training to school staff in communication, additional intensive support to address challenging behavior in students, and additional staffing support for the schools in all areas. Castro explains, “So I think the real focus of this is on the work of restorative justice and actually taking a root cause analysis on the behavior of a young person and trying to meet the needs so that we can encourage more healthy and positive behavior in classrooms.”
Castro says the moratorium is essentially a test run, with the board hoping to eventually turn it into a permanent policy.
“I think we really want to root out a lot of the exclusionary and punitive disciplinary measures in our district. So I think we are going to start small with this and then work our way up into something, hopefully, permanent, but we can’t do it all at once.” says Castro
The district has one week to finish writing the moratorium, and the school board will formally vote on it on September 27th. If approved, it will take effect immediately.
Image courtesy: CDC / UNSPLASH