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January 12, 2018


MRH Files with Civil Rights Commission to Protect Educational Equity

On the same day that the U.S. Commission on Civil Rights issued results of a lengthy investigation over "profoundly unequal" funding in the nation's schools, the Maplewood Richmond Heights School District filed a petition with the Commission urging the federal government not to unravel existing rules on fair student discipline.

The U.S. Commission on Civil Rights is an independent, bipartisan agency created by Congress in 1957 to investigate civil rights complaints. Its new 150-page report contains the following recommendations:

- Incentivize states to adopt equitable public school finance systems.

- Increase federal funding to supplement state funding with a goal to provide meaningful educational opportunity on an equitable basis.

- Promote the collection, monitoring, and evaluation of school spending data.

For decades, school spending has been opaque because districts have only had to report their spending at the district level, not on a school-by-school basis. That concealed important spending imbalances, especially within districts, which often spend more money on affluent schools because that is where the more expensive, veteran teachers are.

The newest federal education law, known as the Every Student Succeeds Act or ESSA, will soon change all that. It requires that districts publicly report what they spend, per student, at the school level. The promise of this increased transparency is that it should be easier for administrators, teachers and researchers to connect a school's spending with its student outcomes, making it easier to replicate successes and justify the spending they require.

Meantime, the same commission has been appealing to educational leaders nationwide to file comments on what's known as the School-to-Prison pipeline, practices and policies which dole out harsher punishment to minority and disabled students than to their peers.  The MRH district, which just this year abolished out-of-school suspensions for younger students in favor of restorative practices which address the root causes of undesirable behavior, issued the following filing (published here in its entirety):

"School is supposed to be a place where kids learn the skills they need to be successful in life.  While we traditionally think about those as reading, writing and arithmetic, more and more we know that kids must be supported in school to learn the coping skills, the self regulation skills, and the executive functioning skills that will set them up for future success.

In an October, 2017 report by the ACLU of Missouri, a discouraging trend was highlighted. In the state of Missouri and nationwide, black students and those with a disability are more likely to be placed in exclusionary discipline. These practices have devastating effects on students.  Students who are suspended or expelled for discretionary violations are twice as likely as other students to repeat a grade. This puts suspended students on a path to be more likely to drop out of school and come into contact with the juvenile justice system.

A significant portion of our region’s children go to school every day while encountering trauma caused by poverty and violence in their homes and neighborhoods. School should be their safe space.

These statistics should encourage and inform school districts -- as well as state and federal departments of education -- of the necessary changes to policies around out-of-school suspensions. Adopting and integrating trauma-informed restorative practices into schools and classrooms is critical to students’ success, especially our most at-risk.

Across the St. Louis, MO. region, school districts are committing to new and proven practices that acknowledge and work to erase the damage that trauma can have on the developing brains of kids. In late 2016, 29 school districts in east-central Missouri made a pledge to reform OSS policies, especially for their youngest students. The Maplewood Richmond Heights School District followed through on the pledge, kicking off the current school year with a policy banning pre-K to 3rd grade out-of-school suspensions.  The district has hired educators to provide specific social and emotional intervention support to students.  All MRH educators are trained in trauma-informed and restorative practices in the classroom.  MRH has been able to successfully change policy because it believes that social/emotional supports are just as important as academic subjects.

In mid-November 2017, the U.S. Department of Education under Trump appointee Betsy DeVos hosted a gathering of educators who claimed to be troubled by discipline policies which had been set in motion three years earlier by the Obama administration. The 2014 guidance warned schools that they could be found in violation of federal civil rights laws if they have discipline rates that are disproportionately high for students in one racial group, even if the school's policies weren't written with discriminatory intent. If a school were to suspend black students at higher rates than their peers, federal officials might step in to investigate. Supporters believe that approach would slow the "school-to-prison pipeline.”  

The MRH School District could not agree more and echoes the statement issued by the Advancement Project after the November meeting: "The desire to return to ineffective and discriminatory zero-tolerance policies is about protecting the comfort of adults, not improving the safety of school communities. It is a well-established fact that black and brown students behave no worse than their white counterparts. It's simply easier to remove those students from the classroom, than to build community within their schools, develop relationships and address the root causes of a student's behavior. Schools must do the hard part of implementing restorative justice, not pushing students out of the classroom and into the criminal justice system."

MRH is dismayed that Secretary DeVos’s Education Department appears poised to jettison reforms which, if allowed to stand, could result in long-term and impactful solutions to leveling the disciplinary playing field while also reducing undesirable student behavior itself."

(Some information in this article comes from National Public Radio)

For more information, contact MRH School District at (314) 644-4400.