The MLO Minute: By, Nancy Potter, Esq.
Access to the classroom for all students is paramount to student success. During the COVID pandemic, all students have experienced some degree of suspended education. Resources have been activated nationwide to address the missed school days and lack of in-person instruction during this year. Yet, millions of students are excluded from classrooms every year due to suspension without any such resource allocation.
This shared experience of having no access to the classroom should raise awareness of how missing school diminishes the opportunity to learn. The stark disparities in lost instruction due to suspension are described in a new national study that provides a comprehensive analysis of the instructions days lost due to out-of-school suspensions in 2015-16 for middle and high school students, for every state and district. The study also demonstrates how the frequent use of suspension contributes to stark inequities in the opportunity to learn, especially for those groups most frequently suspended—students of color and students with disabilities. The findings will help us all understand the impact on every racial group and on students with disabilities.
The harm done by the loss of valuable in-person instruction time when schools closed in March 2020 is even deeper for those students who also lost access to mental health services and other important student support services. The report asserts that those same losses, plus the stigma of punishment, is what suspended students experience when removed from school for breaking a rule, no matter how minor their misconduct. The report’s authors argue that the high rates of lost instruction and the inequitable disparate impact of suspensions in these times of extreme stress should compel districts across the nation to do more, once students are allowed to return, to reduce disciplinary exclusion from school.
At the secondary level, the disparities are the most pronounced:
- Black students lost 103 days per 100 students enrolled, which is 82 more days than the 21 days their White peers lost due to out-of-school suspensions.
- Students with disabilities at the secondary level lost 68 days per 100 students enrolled, which was about twice as much as secondary students without disabilities. Despite the additional legal protections these students are entitled to, in every state, students with disabilities lost more instruction than their nondisabled peers.
The situation in alternative schools is even more dire. Specifically the following race and gender breakdown describes the rates of lost instruction due to out-of-school suspensions, expressed as days lost per 100 students enrolled in our nation’s alternative schools:
- Black boys lost 235 days per 100 students.
- Black girls lost 156 days per 100 students.
- Boys with disabilities lost 170 days per 100 students.
- Girls with disabilities lost 94 days per 100 students.
- White boys lost 109 days per 100 students.
- White girls lost 48 days per 100 students.
At MLO, we are committed to fighting to keep students in classrooms with the instruction they need to make progress. We work with parents, student, advocates and Districts across the country to ensure that those classrooms have the resources they need to provide safe and appropriate interventions, so that all students truly have the opportunity to learn in a safe and supportive environment.