Editor’s Note: This is a guest post from Sara Baker, Legislative and Policy Director, ACLU of Missouri.
All children have a constitutional right to an equal education.
Since the landmark 1954 U.S. Supreme Court case Brown v. Board of Education, it’s been the law of the land. But in 2015, Missouri made national headlines when the Center for Civil Rights Remedies at the University of California-Los Angeles ranked the state No. 1 in the country for racial disparities in the suspension of Black elementary school students.
We know, as many Missouri parents and teachers know, Black students still don’t get the same education as White students. Students with disabilities don’t get the same education as those without disabilities.
We took a look at school discipline data across the state in our new report, “Missouri’s Pipeline of Injustice: From School to Prison” because we know If you can’t measure it, you can’t change it.
We found that in nearly every category, Black students and students with disabilities are punished more severely and more frequently than their White peers and their peers who do not have disabilities.
Just a few days of missed school can have a profound effect on a child’s life. By suspending students, we choose to change their lives. The consequences of excessive discipline extend far beyond the classroom, perpetuating cycles of poverty, low-education attainment, and structural inequalities that span generations.
With this report data, we can change the future for Missouri’s children.
Just like it takes a village to raise a child, it takes people from all parts of the community to improve our educational system.
Here’s how teachers and educators can begin to help.
Educators should increase use of inclusionary (vs. exclusionary) discipline with an eye toward restorative practices. Teachers should inform students and parents of their rights at school and clearly explain disciplinary procedures. Educators should also keep track of discipline data in their classroom for self-study and correction.
We also created an advocacy toolkit that is useful for educators to become better advocates in ending the school-to-prison pipeline. The toolkit shows how to navigate suspension policies and provides step-by-step instruction on gathering federal discipline data at the local school level. (We used Hazelwood School District as an example, but the toolkit can be applied to any school district.)
This year we will engage five districts in a pilot program to decrease suspension rates. The only way we can change the future for the next generation is with your help. That’s why we’re asking for people to share their stories about school discipline with us.
Join us in our efforts to stop this pipeline of injustice. We must keep working to guarantee that all children in Missouri have their constitutional right to an equal education, today and always.
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