Pittsburgh Post-Gazette

Move to end suspension­s of young students gains steam

- By Molly Born

he said was suspended in second and third grades for being habitually late. “We A proposal in the Pennsylvan­ia shouldn’t punish kids when House of Representa­tives adults fail.” to end out-of-school Nancy A. Hubley, Pittsburgh suspension­s for most elementary director of the Education students comes as Law Center, said she Pittsburgh Public Schools is has observed that increasing­ly, exploring a plan of its own educators are finding for its youngest learners. ways to support students

The bill, sponsored by “to make academic progress state Reps. Jake Wheatley, not depriving them of D-Hill District, and Jordan education.” And she said Harris, D-Philadelph­ia, national momentum to would compel districts to ditch suspension­s for at use “restorativ­e practices” least some kids appears to — which allow students to have reached Pennsylvan­ia’s make things right post-conflict two biggest cities. while staying in school The Philadelph­ia school — or other approaches to district eliminated suspension­s “prevent the recurrence of for kindergart­eners the behavior that led to” being this school year. Pittsburgh kicked out of school. Public recently completed

”When you’re 10 and under, a series of “input sessions” you’re really not responsibl­e with the community for your own actions — and school leadership for you’re really still dependent feedback on its Code of Student on an adult,” Mr. Wheatley Conduct. A change to said, citing the story of a girl the code that would end K-2 Pittsburgh Post-Gazette suspension­s not involving immediate physical threats to student safety is likely to come up for a vote next month.

That specific recommenda­tion was included in a January report from the Council of the Great City Schools, one of two analyses of the district it commission­ed this school year. The findings from the consortium of the nation’s 70 largest urban school districts revealed that Pittsburgh Public’s suspension rates are high relative to other city school systems and that its disciplina­ry actions disproport­ionately affect students of color.

Nina Esposito-Visgitis, president of the Pittsburgh Federation of Teachers, surveyed teachers about a month ago on what resources they would need if such a policy were implemente­d. About 400 responses included a shared desire to have more paraprofes­sionals and counselors and other resources she said have been cut over the years.

“Teachers don’t want anyone suspended, but they do want the support,” she said. “There are other means to help the kids who are acting out, so the other kids can continue learning.”

The district considers changes to its discipline policy yearly. Last summer, the board voted to change the code to include three levels of student misconduct — up from two — creating a separate level for the most serious offenses.

It also placed a greater focus on restorativ­e practices. The Council of the Great City Schools’ report said that although anecdotal evidence suggested that approach had reduced suspension­s at PPS, it didn’t see statistica­l evidence to support the claim.

Mr. Wheatley’s legislatio­n also would require a district to offer K-5 students who are suspended or expelled for violent or sexual offenses an “alternativ­e educationa­l setting” that includes at least 20 hours of grade-level instructio­n per week for the duration of the absence and “supportive services” upon their return to a regular classroom.

The Pennsylvan­ia Schools Boards Associatio­n didn’t have an immediate comment on the bill.

Mr. Wheatley said the call to limit suspension­s is a bipartisan one, noting that a separate education reform bill that includes the topic is being considered for introducti­on by at least one Republican.

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