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D.C. City Council Considers Keeping Suspended Students In School


A proposal by a Washington, D.C., city council member is taking on the difficult problem of how to discipline disruptive students and keep them in school. But would it create other problems? Council member David Grosso, who's head of the Education Committee, wants to ban out-of-school suspensions in D.C.'s public and charter schools. Studies show that African-American students are seven times more likely to be suspended than white students in the D.C. schools. School districts around the country have been re-evaluating suspension policies. D.C. Council member David Grosso joins us. Thanks so much for being with us.

DAVID GROSSO: Thanks for having me.

SIMON: What do you believe ending suspensions would do?

GROSSO: I think if we can figure out how to make students feel more comfortable and more welcomed in our schools, I think we'll see attendance numbers go up in the District of Columbia. And I think we'll also see greater success closing the achievement gap here in D.C.

SIMON: How would ending suspensions do that, though? How would that make students feel more comfortable?

GROSSO: Well, studies have shown us that over the past number of years, as people have looked at suspensions - that once you've been suspended once, you're more likely to be suspended again and again and again and again. There have been schools now in D.C. that have chosen to not do suspensions at all already, and those schools have seen an increase in academic performance. They've seen a decrease in incidences in the school that lead to less safety. And it just shows us that it's time to look at a new way of doing this.

SIMON: The chancellor of the D.C. schools, Antwan Wilson, and Scott Pearson who is director of the public charter school board, as you know, have argued that these decisions should be made to educators, principals for example. Do you worry that taking away the threat of suspension would make disruptive students feel that they just have more license to create problems?

GROSSO: I'm not worried about the change in the way that we approach accountability in schools. So when a student acts out, there needs to be accountability, but it needs to be done in a different way. So rather than push her out onto the street or out on her own out in the community for a ten-day period, for example, give her something more constructive to do. And what we've done instead in the District of Columbia is fund more restorative justice practices, more trauma-informed approaches to schools - programs that actually give students the opportunity to make amends when they do act out but also get help when they need help.

SIMON: Mr. Grosso, when you say that in-school suspensions can give students an opportunity to take part in counseling and restorative justice programs, is there the money in the city budget, the Department of Education budget for all those special programs?

GROSSO: You know, in fact, the District of Columbia has been steadily increasing funding over the past several years. My No. 1 budget item for this year is going to be to fund more social workers, child psychologists, school-based mental health providers that can work hand in hand with the teachers and the principals, administrators to give the students the supports they need there in the schools, so that the student doesn't get pushed out.

SIMON: I'm sure there are teachers who would tell you that disruptive students make it difficult for them to teach. They have to train so much attention on the students who's being disruptive that they don't often have an opportunity to really teach what they're supposed to to the youngsters who are ready for that. What do you say to them?

GROSSO: Well, I think that's fair. And it's true when there's a disruption in the class, it has to be dealt with. What I'm saying, though, is that the bill that I've introduced does not ban in-school suspensions or in-school remediation of some sort. And, therefore, there are options to give an opportunity for a student to calm down, to bring the classroom back under order if that's necessary and to make sure that every student in the classroom has an opportunity to learn. And so in order to really get to the root cause, it's important that we stop pushing kids out of school and give them a chance to make amends within the school and move forward with their education.

SIMON: D.C. Council member David Grosso is head of the Education Committee. Thanks so much for being with us, sir.

GROSSO: I really appreciate your interest and talking with you today. Transcript provided by NPR, Copyright NPR.

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