Over-Disciplining Children With Disabilities Or of Color?

By | November 23, 2015

classroomIf you’ve spent any time lately in a public school classroom, you know that teaching can be a stressful job!  Depending on where you live, it is very likely that the classroom sizes are large and the teachers have little support.  They are doing the best job they can!  Having said that, it is important to keep in mind that, even though the job is tough, we educators are in the business of serving children.  Yes, it’s a tough business!  Yes, we may have a wide range of students to serve!  Yes, we may not get the supports we need and deserve, financially or professionally!  But it should never be the students who suffer!

That is why it continues to sadden me that the statistics still point to an unfortunate fact…students of color and students with disabilities continue to be disciplined at a higher proportion than white students and students without disabilities.  What does this mean?  It means that a student of color or a student with a disability is more likely to be verbally scolded, barred from recess, removed from the classroom, suspended, or even expelled than a white student or a student without a disability for the SAME infraction.  Yes, you read that right.  And that is wrong!

The Atlantic ran a very compelling article in July, 2015 highlighting a report by UCLA’s Civil Right’s Project released earlier this year.  Additionally, the White House spotlighted discipline this past July in a gathering of educators, policy makers, and nonprofit leaders discussing how exclusionary discipline increases the risk of a student falling into the “school to prison pipeline“.

Why are more than 3 million children suspended nationwide annually, despite scant scientific evidence that removing children from the classroom improves behavior or learning?

In response to this continued disparity, education reformers are promoting new disciplinary methods.  Positive Behavior Intervention Supports, or PBIS focuses on giving students support by teaching kids appropriate behaviors, the consequences for inappropriate behaviors, and acknowledging when students are following the rules.  PBIS is one of the most studied and validated new discipline models being utilized.  It focuses on what kids are doing right rather than what they are doing wrong.

The Obama administration released a School Discipline Guidance Package last January that  will assist states, districts and schools in developing practices and strategies to enhance school climate, and ensure those policies and practices comply with federal law.

Skeptics argue that implementing PBIS is too expensive or that schools would be putting safety at risk by removing punitive measures.  There is growing evidence; however, that schools who implement PBIS with fidelity have a drastic decrease in unsafe behavior.  And PBIS is not a program that you “buy”, it’s about changing the culture of a system.  It’s about changing the way we think about kids who misbehave in the first place.  And that is free!

It’s about changing the culture of a system!

Our kids deserve the very best education in a safe environment, every single one of them.  It’s up to us educators to provide that.  We can create a learning environment that is rich in content with high expectations for all students.  We can create a learning environment in which all kids succeed and we meet them where they are!  It’s not impossible.  It may be hard at times, but if you are in education than you already know it’s the hard that makes it great!


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