A Blueprint for School Discipline

Article excerpt

EDUCATION

Historic consent decree provides national model for discipline reform.

Alandmark federal consent decree involving the Meridian Public School District in Mississippi is being touted as a major step toward ending longstanding unfair school discipline practices targeting African-American students and as a blueprint for discipline reform nationwide.

The NAACP Legal Defense & Educational Fund Inc. (LDF) joined the Department of Justice (DOJ) and the school district in March in announcing the decision. The decree for the first time formally addresses the harsh and unlawful policies that resulted in mostly Black students, including those with learning disabilities, being repeatedly suspended, criminalized, incarcerated and sent to alternative schools, often for typical childhood behaviors such as talking back or minor uniform violations.

"This decree means that children in Meridian schools may now be liberated from a culture of fear and retaliation so that actual learning can take place," says Damon Hewitt, director of LDF's Education Practice Group, of the decision that affects approximately 6, 700 children, about approximately 85 percent of whom are African American. "What used to be a maze filled with suspensions and arrests is now more like a pathway, helping students make better decisions."

The decree, among other designations:

* Limits the use of suspension. alternative placement and expulsion, and prohibits "exclusionary" discipline for minor misbehavior.

* Prohibits school officials from using law enforcement to deal with behavior that can be appropriately handled.

* Requires that school law enforcement officers be trained on cultural competence, de-escalation techniques, positive school climate practices and mentoring. …