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DC Public Charter School Discipline Policies Hurt Minorities



Black News, African American News, Minority News, Civil Rights News, Discrimination, Racism, Racial Equality, Bias, Equality, Afro American News

Alice Martin Thomas (parent and law professor), Kaitlin Banner (UDC School of Law), Seema Ahmad (Advancement Project), Eric Rafael Gonzalez (NAACP Legal Defense Fund), and Carmen Daughtery (Advocates for Justice and Education, Inc.)

Black News, African American News, Minority News, Civil Rights News, Discrimination, Racism, Racial Equality, Bias, Equality, Afro American News

Alice Martin Thomas, Esq., parent and law professor

Black News, African American News, Minority News, Civil Rights News, Discrimination, Racism, Racial Equality, Bias, Equality, Afro American News

Alice Martin Thomas, parent and law professor; and Kaitlin Banner Esq., clinical instructor/supervising attorney, University of the District of Columbia David A. Clarke School of Law


Black News, African American News, Minority News, Civil Rights News, Discrimination, Racism, Racial Equality, Bias, Equality, Afro American News

Eric Rafael Gonzalez, education policy advocate for the NAACP Legal Defense Fund

WASHINGTON – School discipline policies and procedures in D.C. public charter schools lead to high expulsion and suspension rates that are disproportionately affecting students with special needs and minorities, said Carmen Daugherty, chair of the American Bar Association Section of Individual Rights and Responsibilities’ Public Education Committee, at a conference on public charter school discipline on Wednesday.

The program, “Public Charter School Disciplinary Practices: A School-to-Prison Pipeline,” brought together civil rights attorneys, advocates and parents to discuss the push for more accountability and oversight of charter schools and their disciplinary practices.

“There are charter schools in the District that serve an overwhelming majority of students with special needs while there are schools that are not taking many at all,” said Kaitlin Banner, clinical instructor and supervising attorney for the University of the District of Columbia David A. Clarke School of Law.

While charter schools often provide a better education than D.C. public schools, panelists agreed that there are serious issues surrounding their disciplinary practices.

“We are seeing kids go straight from an alleged incident to being put out of school immediately and skipping special steps that protect students with special needs,” Daugherty said.

The D.C. public charter school system is the second largest in the nation. There are 52 charter schools educating 40 percent of youth in the city. They each serve as their own individual school districts called Local Education Agencies.

Inconsistent policies

Since each school is its own LEA, there is a lack of consistent disciplinary policies that apply across public charter schools.

“Although they are required to follow the same laws as our D.C. public school system, they are able to create their own disciplinary practices that are not part of any sort of regulation,” Daugherty said.

Ultimately, it is the responsibility of the parent to enroll his or her child into a local D.C. public school once the child is removed from the charter school.

Special needs hit hardest

Michelle R. Davis, director and educational consultant of ABCs for Life Success, LLC, agreed that students with special needs are being affected by the varied charter school disciplinary policies.

“We’ve got kids who have gifts and talents that are not uncovered or are masked by their behavior,” said Davis. “The effect on our communities, families and kids is really profound.”

For a child with known or suspected disabilities, schools are legally required by the Individuals with Disabilities Education Act to have a meeting with his or her parents to find out if the behavior is substantially related to the student’s disability or if the school failed to implement the child’s individual education or behavioral intervention plan before the child reaches his or her tenth day of removal, said Davis, who has worked extensively with D.C. public charter schools.

“It’s very frustrating for parents of children with special needs, who already feel limited by their choices in public schools,” Daugherty said. “It is very difficult to put these children into charter school knowing that they could be put out because of their disability.”

Appeal or sue?

Both federal and local school discipline laws include a parent’s right to be given notice and a hearing before his or her child is removed or expelled from school – but this is sometimes lacking in charter schools.

“Parents do not receive any type of written notice. They just get a phone call that their child can not come back to school today or tomorrow, or maybe the child has been expelled,” said Daugherty. “There is also not an opportunity for a hearing in many of these charter school settings.”

Charter schools’ discipline policies are based on criteria set by the school and approved by the District of Columbia Charter School Board.

Though the school board can take complaints and investigate any wrong doings at these charter schools, it has no authority to order a school to reverse a school policy or to take a kid back into school as long as the school is within the bounds of its charter, said Banner, the UDC School of Law attorney.

“There is also no formal appeal to the public charter school board, the way that there might be in other states, like a state’s board of education, for example,” Banner said.

Once parents have gone through an individual school’s process, they find it difficult to appeal decisions without suing, said Banner.

“That is not an easy road for a lot of parents, it’s expensive and time consuming,” Banner said.

In general, the charter schools often lack an alternative education plan once a student is removed from school.

“They might get work sent home or they might not, but there is no place for students to go,” said Banner. “The student is home or is on the streets or is getting into trouble somewhere else.”

One parent’s story

Parent and associate professor at Howard University School of Law Alice M. Thomas experienced the problems with school discipline policies first hand.

Thomas said her son was suspended from a D.C. public charter school because of a Facebook fan page he created for another student.  She examined the Facebook page, she felt her son was being unfairly suspended and tried to appeal the suspension process.

After speaking with school officials, Thomas requested a hearing with an impartial examiner in order to appeal to stop the suspension.

“They couldn’t get an independent hearing examiner soon enough,” said Thomas. “He’s already had the penalty, and been suspended.”

Problems nationwide

Issues with school disciplinary policies go beyond the District.

In Philadelphia, many charter schools have a zero tolerance policy that has resulted in the suspension or expulsion of children as young as five years old, said Seema Ahmad, attorney for the Advancement Project.

“It’s strategic,” said Ahmad.  “This is a way for some of these schools, not all, to get rid of the bad kids in kindergarten, have their enrollment capped and filled up. Then in first grade they have gotten rid of all the potentially difficult children.”

With the Department of Education advocating for more charter schools, now is the time to advocate for consistency with school disciplinary practices before the creation of all these mini school districts, Daugherty said.

STORY TAGS: Black News, African American News, Minority News, Civil Rights News, Discrimination, Racism, Racial Equality, Bias, Equality, Afro American News

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