AFT’s Weingarten: “The federal government made many positive suggestions, but policies in a vacuum without actual resources and support will not succeed.”
WASHINGTON—Education Secretary Arne Duncan and Attorney General Eric Holder released statistics today that cannot be ignored, compelling a shift of school discipline policies away from “zero tolerance” to stop the disproportionate impact of suspensions on African-American and Latino children, the American Federation of Teachers said, but any new policies will only be successful if the resources and support are there to help at-risk children thrive.
Also today, at a long-scheduled symposium, the AFT outlined its own recommendations to change school climates where everyone feels safe and respected and every child has the opportunity to succeed. And in March, the AFT will hold a practitioner summit that will bring together educators, support personnel, school-based mental health professionals, superintendents and administrators to help develop practical strategies involving restorative justice practices and alternatives to suspensions to help change school climates.
“What No Child Left Behind did, as zero-tolerance policies did, was shine a light on a problem but solve it with sanctions instead of supports. That cannot continue. The federal government made many positive suggestions, but policies in a vacuum without actual resources and support will not succeed,” said AFT President Randi Weingarten. “Instead of fixating on testing, we should be fixating on making schools safe, welcoming and respectful with meaningful professional development, community schools, real alternatives to suspension and restorative justice programs to empower students to resolve conflicts, and restored budget cuts that have left schools without resources to support students and families.”
African-American and Latino students are more likely than white students to receive suspensions, expulsions or school-based arrests, or to be transferred to alternative settings for school behavior infractions, including nonviolent, noncriminal behavior that could have been addressed within the school community. Research also shows that African-American and Latino students, particularly males, are more likely to be suspended for subjective violations such as disrespect, insubordination or willful defiance.
The AFT discipline statement says the following changes are necessary and would have a positive impact on school discipline disparities:
- All school staff should receive ongoing professional development and training, aligned with school and district reform goals, with a focus on evidence-based positive school discipline, conflict resolution, cultural relevancy and responsiveness, behavior management, social justice and equity.
- Earmark funding for states to collect data and to support a comprehensive and aligned system of mental health and intervention services for children and youth.
- Increase school district and statewide investments in social-emotional learning and student-support teams, focusing on academic engagement, equitable access to rigorous coursework and developmentally appropriate behavioral instruction.
- Include time to collaboratively analyze and address school discipline data.
- Review and monitor existing discipline codes to ensure they are developmentally appropriate, effective and equitable.
- Restore critical school personnel, such as counselors, psychologists, nurses and school social workers, who have the knowledge and expertise to appropriately address student behavior.
- Restore and provide training to essential paraprofessional and school-related support personnel, such as instructional aides, bus drivers, security and school resource officers, cafeteria staff and custodial staff.
- Include students, families, educators and support personnel, juvenile justice professionals, law enforcement officers, child welfare workers and other community members in developing and implementing school improvement/reform plans that will affect school climate.
- Implement alternatives to suspension and expulsion to manage student behavior. Establish criteria for high-quality alternative education settings and develop transition protocols for students returning to their community’s schools.