Research-Based Recommendations for Improving School Discipline -- Advocates for Children’s Services | Juvenile Delinquency | Social Institutions

Research-Based Recommendations for Improving School Discipline

Presentation to the WCPSS Economically Disadvantaged Student Performance Task Force July 29, 2010

Good afternoon. My name is Jason Langberg. I’m an attorney with Advocates for Children’s Services. My work focuses on issues related to school discipline and the school-to-prison pipeline in Wake County. Thank you very much to the Board members for having me here today and to all of you for being here. I’m going to through this presentation quickly because there’s a lot to cover in only 20 minutes. I’m happy to answer questions afterward and welcome the opportunity meet with folks individually. If you want to contact me, my phone number and email address will be up on the screen at the end.


Advocates for Children’s Services
– Statewide project of Legal Aid of North Carolina, Inc. – Provide:
legal advice and representation for children from low-income families lowcommunity education


Advocates for Children’s Services is a statewide project of Legal Aid of North Carolina, Inc. We are five attorneys and a paralegal. We provide legal advice and representation for children from low-income families. We also engage in community education activities.

Concerns about WCPSS school discipline Summary of research-based recommendations to improve school discipline in the WCPSS Next steps

I’m going to go over 3 things: 1) Concerns about school discipline in Wake County; 2) Ways to improve school discipline in Wake County; and 3) Next steps we can take. This presentation is a summary of a detailed report we’ve been working on for the last four months. Copies of the report will be available online. Also, hopefully the Board members can have the document sent to everyone in attendance today. I encourage everyone to read the whole thing because I can’t cover everything in 20 minutes and it provides: •more in-depth data and research around school discipline; •real-life case studies; •examples of other places around the country that have implemented the recommendations; and •much more. So, let’s jump right into concerns.


Definition of Long-Term Suspension: 5 Largest School Districts in NC
Forsyth, Cumberland, Guilford Counties:
– “In excess of 10 days but not exceeding the time remaining in the school year” year”

Mecklenburg County:
– “exceeds 10 school days but that does not exceed 180 school days” days”

Wake County:
– “removal from the school system for remainder of the school year” year”
Source: Local board policies

Our first concern is the definition of long-term suspension in Wake County. Most districts in North Carolina and North Carolina state law define long-term suspension as more than 10 school days but not longer than the rest of the school year. Wake County, on the other hand, defines long-term suspension as for the rest of the school year. So, every long-term suspended student in Wake County is out for the rest of the school year. Our definition is problematic for two main reasons: 1) First, principals are left with only two options: short-term suspension or suspension lasting the rest of the school year. If a student does something serious that warrants more than a short-term but not serious enough to justify a long-term suspension, the principal will still have to choose between two inappropriate consequences. The punishment “won’t fit the crime,” so to speak. 2) Second, it leads to unfair and arbitrary outcomes. Take for example, two students who commit the exact same offense. Both get long-term suspended. However, one was long-term suspended on the 15th day or school, while the other was long-term suspended on the 150th day of school. Ultimately, one student will miss 165 days or school while the other will miss 30.


Number of Long-Term Suspensions in the 5 Largest School Districts in NC During the 2008-2009 School Year
1200 1015 1000 800 600 400 142 200 0
Forsyth Cumberland Guilford Mecklenburg Wake




Source: NC DPI Annual Study of Suspension and Expulsion

Our second concern is the sheer number of long-term suspensions in Wake County. As you can see, Wake County long-term suspended over 1,000 students last year, as it has for the last five school years for which data is available. Wake County long-term suspends almost 22 times more students than Mecklenburg County. And the huge long-term suspension gaps between Wake and the other counties is not due to the size of Wake County. Wake County’s long-term suspension rate per 100 students is about 2.75 times greater than the district with the second highest long-term suspension rate—Cumberland County.


Racial Disparities (2008-2009)
African American students represented 26% of students in Wake County, yet they accounted for:
– 62% of short-term suspensions – 68% of long-term suspensions – 100% of expulsions (total of 3 expulsions) – 73% of school-based delinquency complaints
Sources: NC DPI Annual Study of Suspension and Expulsion NC DJJDP WCPSS Demographics Resource Center

We’re also very concerned about the racial disparities we see. As you can see, African American students are disturbingly overrepresented in each level of discipline. I believe there’s a causal relationship between what we see here and similar racial disparities in academic achievement, drop out rates, graduation rates, involvement in the justice system, etc. That’s because research shows that excluding a child from school leads to greater risks for academic failure, dropping out, and getting involved in the criminal justice system. That’s why addressing and improving school discipline issues should have positive overall effects on closing the achievement gaps, improving graduation rates, and stopping the school-to-prison pipeline.


Other Concerns
High number of short-term suspensions short– 20,651 in 2008-09 2008-

Zero tolerance policies and mindsets Unlimited administrator discretion to suspend Excessive, largely unrestrained policing of schools
– 802 school-based delinquency complaints in 2008-09 school2008-

Lack of:
– High quality alternatives to suspension – Community involvement and oversight – Due process for students facing long-term suspension longSources: NC DPI Annual Study of Suspension and Expulsion NC DJJDP

I want to touch on five more of our major concerns. First, Wake County schools give over 20,000 short-term suspensions every year. Second, zero tolerance policies, both on paper and in practice, are a problem. Third, there are too few restrictions on when principals can suspend students. Specifically, there’s: - no limitation on suspensions for minor offenses and for younger students; - no requirement to consider alternatives; and - no requirement to use graduated interventions. Fourth, we have about 60 full-time police officers, called school resource officers, and security investigators working in our schools at great public expense. Last state fiscal year, there were 802 school-based delinquency complaints. This means complaints sent to the juvenile justice system for misbehavior that occurs at school. It is important that you know that the vast majority of these complaints were not for major crimes--91% of them were for misdemeanors. At least 76 students were sent into the juvenile delinquency system for “disorderly conduct.” Just one more note about this point. The 802 figure does not include school-based criminal complaints. North Carolina is one of only two states in the country where juvenile court jurisdiction ends at age 15. That means all sixteen-, seventeen-, and eighteen-year-olds who have school-based complaints filed against them automatically go directly to the adult criminal system—we literally have a school-to-prison pipeline. Data on such students is not maintained, as far as I know. However, one can safely assume that once the school-based criminal complaints are added to the school-based delinquency complaints, the number of students sent to the justice system from school is well over 1,000 each year. Finally, we have a lack of: • Alternatives to suspension; • Community involvement and oversight; and • Due process for students facing long-term suspension. In Wake County, long-term suspended students get one of three things: 1) On-line classes, which have a whole host of problems; 2) One to six hours of homebound instruction, if the student has an IEP, and DPI recently declared that practice illegal; or 3) Nothing and they stay home or out on the streets. None of these options are sufficient.



Revise Board Policies
1. 2. 3. 4. 5. 6. 7.

8. 9.

Change the definition of long-term suspension. longImplement positive behavior interventions and support (PBIS) systems at ALL schools. Provide students and parents with clear, easy-to-understand easy- tostudent conduct policies. Mandate use of graduated interventions and consequences to handle misbehavior. Involve students, parents, and community members in developing student conduct policies and behavior standards. Eliminate all zero tolerance policies (except those mandated by federal or state law). Limit the use of suspensions and expulsions for minor misconduct, misconduct, off-campus misconduct, and misconduct by elementary school offstudents. Provide students facing long-term suspension with strong due longprocess protections. Don’t punish students academically during suspensions. Don’

So, let’s talk now about some research-based recommendations for improving school discipline in Wake County. These ideas are drawn from researchers and other districts around the country that have made progress toward keeping students in school. 1) We can start with a simple step—change the definition of long-term suspension to be more fair, just, and in line with other districts and state law. The definition should changed from “rest of the year” to “more than 10 days but not longer than the rest of the year.” 2) One of the most important things we can do is to implement with fidelity a positive behavior interventions and support support (PBIS) system in all schools, and then ensure PBIS systems produce measurable gains in academic achievement and e school culture. 3) We should provide students and parents with clear, easy-to-understand student conduct policies. And avoid overly vague, rovide easy-toa complex, and unnecessary language that decreases clarity and understanding. All parents and students must be able to read and comprehend the policies so there’s adequate notice, transparency, and responsiveness. 4) We should also mandate the use of graduated interventions and consequences to handle misbehavior. What I mean here andate handle is the creation of a matrix with inappropriate behaviors down the left side and the appropriate interventions and consequences for each behavior going across the top. That way: • Administrators are consistently using the most appropriate and consistent responses to misbehaviors and aren’t put in the difficult position of coming up with consequences in each individual case, thereby upsetting the student and parent or the teacher or administrator who made the referral; and • Student and parents know exactly what to expect. Baltimore City Public Schools is an excellent example of a district that has a detailed matrix. I have a few copies of Baltimore’s policy today in case folks want to take a look and there’s also a link in the full report. 5) Number five: Involve students, parents, and community members in developing student conduct policies and behavior student standards. This is best practice because: • it leads to fairer, more democratic, legitimate policies that reflect community norms and values; and reflect • the community is more invested in not only the rules but also the education system as a whole the 6) Six. Some zero tolerance policies are mandated by federal and state law. But Wake County has some additional zero tolerance policies and practices that can be eliminated. Instead, with each instance of school misbehavior administrators should consider mitigating factors, such as: The actual intent; The student’s mental illness and/or disability;


Recommendation: Alternatives & Corrective Strategies
1. Ensure that high quality educational and

behavioral alternatives to suspension are readily available and used 2. Increase collaboration with community organizations—develop a continuum of prevention & intervention services

Our second category of recommendations is about making sure our children get what they need so they can go on and receive an education. First, we must ensure that suspended students have a place to go, such as a high-quality alternative school, where they highcan get the education, supervision, and services they need. Second, we must provide teachers and administrators with the tools they need to address behavior problems without having tools to resort to suspension. Examples of alternatives include:


Restorative justice programs (e.g., peace circle); Referral to counselor, social worker, or support team; Anger management class; Mandatory counseling; Substance abuse treatment; Community service; Mediation; Restitution; Detention; High-quality Saturday school; and High-quality in-school suspension.

Finally, schools and community members must work together to ensure that prevention and intervention services are available, including: • Mental health services; • Substance abuse services; • Extra academic assistance; • Family supports; and • Public benefits and legal assistance.



Limit School Resource Officers
1. 2.
– –

Require all SROs and security personnel to undergo mandatory, specialized, intensive training Prohibit delinquency and criminal complaints from being filed against students
Who commit minor offenses With disabilities, prior to review

– –

Prohibit SROs from
Carrying guns and TASERs on school campuses Interrogating students w/o the presence of a parent/guardian or other advocate


Create more detailed guidelines, standards, and operating procedures with the law enforcement agencies providing SROs. SROs.

Our third category of recommendations is around school resource officers (SROs). 1) First, if we decide to keep SROs in schools at all, we need to get them better trained. Examples of trainings SROs should undergo prior to starting work in schools and on-going during their time in schools include: • Legal standards for searches and seizures in public schools; • Creating positive school climates; • Positive Behavior Interventions and Support (PBIS); • Adolescent development; • Working with students with disabilities; • Cultural competency; • De-escalating students without using physical force; • Using safe restraint techniques; and • The consequences for youth of court-involvement and arrests. 2) Second, we need to limit when delinquency and criminal complaints can be filed against students. Court involvement is so devastating for youth and their families. So, let me give two examples of limitations: a) There should be no complaints should be filed against students for minor misbehavior. Right now students are getting shipped to the justice system for misbehaviors like disorderly conduct, injury to personal property, pushing and shoving (“simple assault”), and trespassing. This practice of limiting referrals for certain types of minor misconduct has been a great success in other school districts. b) The Complaints shouldn’t be filed before an MDR is held or after one is held, if the behavior was a manifestation of the student’s disability; and 3) Third, we should prohibit SROs from: • Carrying guns and TASERs on school campuses. They’re simply too dangerous and unnecessary and haven’t been proven to increase school safety; and • Interrogating students w/o the presence their parent and/or advocate. 4) Finally, Wake County Public School System currently has an memorandum of understanding with the various law enforcement agencies but it’s only about 6 pages and doesn’t contain much substance. We need a more detailed, public MOU that incorporates the recommendations in the report.



Data Collection & Monitoring
Create school-based discipline oversight and advisory committees made up of students, parents, community members, and teachers. 2. Make easy-to-understand data publically available about:
– – – Prevention, intervention, and alternative learning efforts Suspension, expulsion, school-based delinquency schooland criminal complaints, and school-based arrests schoolSROs

Data collection and monitoring is our last set of recommendations. 1) Each school should have a discipline oversight and advisory committee made up of students, parents, community members, and teachers. The committees would:  Develop action plans to reduce suspensions and court referrals, eliminate racial disparities, etc.;  Develop procedures for responding to problems and concerns of students, parents, and teachers;  Develop expectations for all members of the school community;  Monitor the activities of school resources officers (SROs);  Review instances of individual students who repeatedly receive short-term suspensions for possible alternatives, fairness, any violations of students’ rights, etc.;  Review every long-term suspension for possible alternatives, fairness, any violations of students’ rights, etc.; and  Review discipline data monthly for use of interventions, excessive suspensions, racial disparities, etc. 2) Data about suspension, expulsion, school-based delinquency and criminal complaints, and school-based arrests should be disaggregated and analyzed by: Race; Gender; Age; Grade; School; Disability status (i.e., disabled or non-disabled); Free and reduced lunch status English language learner status; Primary policy violation; Type of exclusion (i.e., short-term suspension, long-term suspension, or expulsion); Prior suspensions (e.g., number of previous short-term and long-term suspensions); and Length of suspension (i.e., number of school days missed).

• • • • • • • • • • • •

Data about SROs should be disaggregated by: • School(s); • Type of coverage (i.e., exclusive to one school or share among schools); • Employer (e.g., police department, sheriff’s department, or school district); • Years of experience as a SRO; • Salary; • Gender; • Race; • Age; • Type of weapon(s) carried (e.g., pepper spray, TASER, gun); • Number of school-based delinquency complaints filed; • Number of school-based criminal complaints filed; and • Number of school-based arrests made.


Next Steps for the Board of Education
Carefully read and consider recommendations Meet with authors and contributors Convene workgroup Convene stakeholder meetings Pass new policies Put measures in place to determine efficacy of new policies and programs On-going monitoring of new policies and programs

Now, let’s wrap up with some suggested next steps for the Board. First, we hope the Board will carefully read and consider recommendations and then meet with the authors and contributors who can help: -answer any questions they may have; -prioritize actions; and -form task force/workgroup. Then, a workgroup could be convened to: -advise the Board; -help implement changes; and -monitor the process. Members of the workgroup should include: -Teachers -Administrators -Students -Parents -Advocates -Community members This workgroup would also help convene meetings with stakeholders, including: -Teachers -Administrators -SROs -Public defenders -Judges -District Attorneys -Students -Parents -Services providers -Advocates -Attorneys Finally, the Board should: -pass new policies and create new programs; -put measures in place to evaluate these new actions; and -conduct on-going monitoring to ensure success and meaningful reform.


Thank You
Improving school discipline and keeping kids in school is an area where we can find common ground. Doing so will benefit students, parents, teachers, administrators, and our community. If not now, when? If not us, who? Contact information:
– Jason Langberg – – 919-226-0052 ext. 438

That’s all we have for today and I’ll stop here to respect everyone’s time. I honestly believe this is an area where we can find common ground. We all agree that keeping kids in schools is a good thing and we all desire a system that has accountability, equity, prevention, collaboration, and fairness. So, let’s role up our sleeves and get to work creating a better system for the children of Wake County. Thanks for listening, and again, feel free to contact me.

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