On April 19th, the American Bar Association’s Commission on Disability Rights hosted a panel discussion on Rethinking School Discipline: Disability Law the Case for Reform Featuring two panels – one of attorneys and one of educators – the event addressed disparities in school discipline as it affects students with disabilities and students of color. Panel members, representing attorneys, educators, school administrators, policy-makers, advocates from national and state organizations, and federal agency officials, discussed the prevalence of the problem, and examined protections offered under IDEA that can be used to stop exclusionary discipline measures as well as opportunities under the Every Student Succeeds Act (ESSA) to drive policy improvements. Specifically, panelists noted that the use of increased behavioral supports offered under IDEA are underutilized, stressing that appropriate behavioral supports must be ensured at every stage of the service continuum, and that SPP Indicator 4 should be clarified to make sure that data collection is accurate regarding populations affected by suspension/expulsion policies.
In addition, as states develop their ESSA-compliant State Plans in the coming months, the opportunity exists for them to include school climate indicators by sub-group, based on solid needs assessments to identify discipline disparities and, as a result, include needs-based, evidence-based practices into their State Plans. Efforts also should be made to incorporate effective use of new ESSA “specialized instructional support personnel” (SISP) in the provision of effective multi-tier systems of support. Finally, panelists recommended close scrutiny to the letter and intent of ESSA’s charge that requires states to address bullying, harassment, and overuse of discipline practices and aversive behavioral interventions for students with disabilities. In addition to these mandatory language recommended actions, direct strategies for school district leaders to maintain student engagement and enrollment were offered by the Council of State Government Justice Center, one of the participants of the education panel.