Some Indiana schools gave out-of-school suspensions to over half of their students during the 2016-17 academic year. That’s according to data provided by the Indiana Department of Education.
The suspension rates should be cause for concern, said JauNae Hanger, president of the Children’s Policy and Law Initiative of Indiana, which advocates for research-based and nonpunitive school discipline.
“When kids are not in school and are losing critical days of instruction, their risk of dropping out is greater,” she said. “But it’s also important to note that, when you have really high percentages of students suspended, it impacts the whole school.”
“We’re really missing the big picture if we don’t understand how school discipline can undercut what we’re trying to do, which is improve these schools for all students.”
The high rates of suspension come at a time of concern that excessive discipline fuels a “school-to-prison pipeline.” Researchers have found that students of color are more likely than white students to be punished for the same offenses, and that such disparities may contribute significantly to racial achievement gaps. As Hanger suggested, studies have found that harsh school discipline can have negative effects even on students who aren’t subject to disciplinary actions.
Legislation aimed at promoting positive school discipline and reducing the number of students who are suspended or expelled has been approved by the Indiana House and sent to the Senate. As amended in the House, the bill doesn’t mandate better policies, but it’s a step in the right direction.
It would be a bigger step, however, if lawmakers extended their reach to charter schools, including “no-excuses” charter schools that use strict discipline to enforce compliant student behavior.
House Bill 1421, in its current form, would:
- Have the Indiana Department of Education develop a model school discipline policy and provide help to school corporations that want to implement better discipline policies and procedures.
- Have the department survey school corporations about their use of positive discipline and report the findings to the legislature by Sept. 1, 2018.
- Assign a legislative study committee the task of examining positive school discipline and restorative justice policies with an eye to whether they should be required in the future.
None of that is controversial, and the bill passed the House by a vote of 92-0.
Update: The House Education Committee approved HB 1421 by a vote of 8-5. That sends it to the full House for possible amendments and further consideration. If it passes the House, it will go to the Senate for more of the same. Supporters said the bill is a “work in progress” that needs to be revised to ensure that it’s effective. But they said punitive discipline is a serious issue that lawmakers should address.
Indiana child advocates are promoting legislation that would discourage schools from suspending and expelling students and encourage “positive discipline strategies” that keep students in school.
The legislation, House Bill 1421, is scheduled to be heard this morning by the House Education Committee. It would revise state law on school discipline to prioritize positive, research-based approaches, including restorative justice and culturally responsive practices.
“Our interest is in keeping kids in school and preventing them from going into the criminal-justice system,” said JauNae Hanger, president of the Children’s Policy and Law Initiative of Indiana.
The legislation calls on school corporations to create policies that reduce suspensions and expulsions and address disparities in how students are disciplined. It says students should be removed from school only for serious offenses, not for being tardy or skipping school. Students should be arrested or referred to law enforcement only to protect public safety, the bill says.