This blog post was originally published on January 28, 2015. It was updated and re-published on February 11, 2019.
School boards and officials across the country are reevaluating the way they approach discipline in schools. The balance between being too harsh and feeling limited in discipline options is coming at the expense of creating a safe learning environment for all students. Last year, the current Department of Education made a case to reverse Obama-era guidance around addressing disparities in discipline, including race. But while that portion of the previous administration’s rules are being looked at, another area of the American student body that is overrepresented in data—special education students.
According to a report by the Department of Education’s Office for Civil Rights in 2018, students with special needs made up 12 percent of enrollment in 2015-2016, but made up around 26 percent of those who received out-of-school suspension and 28 percent who were referred to law enforcement during disciplinary actions.
This striking data points to major issues among school boards and teachers, and growing concerns among parents and guardians who feel their children with special needs are being unfairly treated and targeted. In fact, civil rights groups like the ACLU are taking up cases against school boards and teachers in districts about this subject, hoping to level the playing field and advocate for change in the education system. This is why school boards are opting for Educators liability insurance programs that help to financially protect them in the event of litigation.
Various states are in the process of updating their discipline policies in general, hoping to curb some of the disparity among those who are disciplined in school. California banned out-of-school suspension for all students ranging K-3rd grade for “willful defiance” (i.e. disruptive behavior) and Tennessee brought a bill to its governor’s desk to ban corporal punishment once and for all as statistics showed that students with disabilities were hit or spanked at a higher rate than other students.
The issue that parents and advocates are touching on is that corporal punishment or out-of-school suspensions are Draconian ways to deal with students as a whole, but specifically how to deal with students who have special needs. There is an effort to understand students with disabilities better, especially in terms of how to discipline them fairly and justly.
For teachers and those on school boards, this means working with teachers and concerned parties about the best way to fairly treat special needs students in school. From open forum discussions to hands-on learning opportunities, and better communication and education around this subject, there is a hope that unfair discipline will be curbed and balanced in the coming years.
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