In 2015, the Civil Rights Project at UCLA found that the use of out-of-school suspension for elementary school children in Missouri is the most racially unbalanced in the nation. Now the American Civil Liberties Union, or ACLU, of Missouri has released a report highlighting the disparity, "From School to Prison: Missouri's Pipeline of Injustice."
The UCLA study found that Missouri has the largest gap in the nation between how elementary schools suspend black students compared to white students. In the 2011 to 2012 school year, Missouri suspended 14.4 percent of black elementary students statewide at least once, compared to just 1.8 percent of white students.
The report uses data compiled from the U.S. Department of Education and all Missouri schools.
Sharonica Hardin-Bartley, superintendent of University City Schools, says these disparities have been prevalent for far too long.
"Unfortunately our discipline data mirrors what was just described," Hardin- Bartley says. "We must think differently about student discipline as schools and also learning organizations become more trauma-informed. Our practices must be more restorative in nature. The punitive measures simply do not work."
The report suggests that in-school suspension, if handled correctly, is much more effective for students.
"In-school suspension has benefits such as keeping the child in an educational environment, and providing an opportunity for restorative practices," the report says. And yet, the authors note, it too has its pitfalls: "Too often, [in-school suspension] is barely different from disciplinary seclusion, with a student being put aside in a room with no further instructional efforts made. Using in-school suspensions inequitably, and in this manner, does not produce better results."
In late 2016, 29 school districts made a pledge to reform their out-of-school suspension policies and procedures. Katie Kaufmann, president of the Maplewood Richmond Heights Board of Education, says her district banned out-of-school suspension for pre-K through third graders this year.
"I think many districts in the region, including ours, have been on a pathway with programs like Positive Behavior Intervention," Kaufmann says. "We implement a Response to Intervention Program, which recognizes that 80 percent of our students need a minimal amount of support, 15 percent of our students need a bit more support to be successful in the classroom and 5 percent of our students are going to need some significant supports to be successful in the traditional classroom setting."
Mittman says the goal is to solve this problem statewide.
"We will be working with selective school districts collaboratively, with administrators, with teachers, with students to come up with better policies," he says. "We will then expand the pilot program to more and more schools with the support of organizations, coalition partners and funders. We will solve this problem with a long-term solution."
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