Seattle Public Schools became the latest school district to try eliminating out-of-school suspensions Wednesday, in response to research showing suspensions disproportionately punish students of color. The school board unanimously passed a resolution that eliminates suspensions in the district’s elementary schools and asks the superintendent to create alternatives to suspension programs, implement staff training and case management support, and to work on reducing the use of suspension across all grades.
The Seattle school district’s plan came after Harium Martin-Morris, a member of the Seattle School Board, introduced the resolution in July. He told media outlet Al Jazeera that he had seen research about the school-to-prison pipeline issue and wanted the district to make a change. “Part of that is the criminalization of behavior that starts very, very early on,” Martin-Morris told Al Jazeera. "This is a way to kind of stop, to break the cycle."
In the resolution, the school board said that Native American, African-American, Hawaiian/Pacific Islander, English-Language Learners, Latino children and children in the special education program were being suspended at double, and in some cases triple, the rate of overall suspensions in the district. Data from the University of California Los Angeles showed that black students were three times as likely as their peers to be given an out-of-school suspension.
Other schools around the country have tried similar initiatives in response to research that shows school suspensions can impact the likelihood of juvenile arrest and do not always help behavior problems in school. In July, Miami-Dade County Public Schools put forth a plan to eliminate out-of-school suspensions.
California passed legislation in 2014 that limited the reasons schools could suspend students, and school districts in Baltimore, Minneapolis, Los Angeles and other cities have implemented plans to curtail the use of suspensions in recent years.