What are the impacts of school suspension? To begin with, students suffer the obvious loss of instructional time. Research also indicates that suspensions lead to lower grade levels in reading, significantly increase the risk of dropping out of school, and are a leading indicator of future incarceration.
Data also shows that black and disabled students are referred to the principal’s office more often than other students. In Massachusetts, the average Black/White gap was 24 more days of lost instruction, with 10 schools having a Black/White gap of over 100 days.
Professor of Public Policy and Public Affairs Mark Warren and his graduate assistant Andrew King hosted a day-long event, “Moving Beyond Chapter 222,” about the school discipline landscape in Massachusetts and possibilities for future investment in progressive discipline aimed to, in the end, close the racial discipline gap and ensure student success and higher graduation rates.
Massachusetts law Chapter 222 calls for schools to limit the use of out-of-school suspensions for minor misbehavior, and to only use it as a ‘last resort’ once all other alternatives to exclusion have been tried; access to educational services when students are expelled or suspended; and more stringent state data monitoring to track and prevent demographic disparities in discipline.
Professor Warren, an expert on community organizing, education reform, and race and racial justice, opened the conference and joined Rachel Gunther, associate director of Youth on Board and Jessica Tang, president of the Boston Teachers Union, to frame the day’s event.
Over 100 attendees including students, teachers, principals, administrators, and advocates heard presentations and engaged in discussions with researchers Daniel J. Losen, director of the Center for Civil Rights Remedies at the UCLA Civil Rights Project/Proyecto Derechos Civiles, and Colin Jones, senior policy analyst at the Massachusetts Budget and Policy Center.
A high point in the day, panelists gave insightful remarks around their experiences with school discipline reform, particularly around restorative justice. Suzan Maze-Rothstein, teaching professor and director of the Legal Skills in Social Context Program at the Northeastern University School of Law, noted, "One thing that I have learned is that if we treat restorative justice as if it is only an intervention at the point of suspension, we will have less effective results. What we need to do to take it to the next level ... We need a whole-school model. The minute you have, even in a happy classroom setting, students who are the most empowered raising their hands and getting called on more than the disenfranchised members of that class, you have injustice in that classroom. To truly establish justice in the classroom, restorative justice needs to be part of the pedagogic tools and culture throughout the school."
Andrew King, a public policy PhD student at the McCormack Graduate School who helped plan the conference, reflected on the event, "In keeping with McCormack's mission of community engagement, this event brought together education stakeholders from the worlds of policy, law, academia, and community organizing. The forum provided an inclusive and participatory space for cross-sector dialogue and multi-stakeholder collaboration in the process of implementing progressive school discipline policy in Massachusetts."