One Change at a Time: Parents in New Orleans win Changes in their Student Code of Conduct
10 Aug in
By Damekia Morgan, Families and Friends of Louisiana’s Incarcerated Children
The Recovery School District (RSD) has made significant improvements to their Student Code of Conduct, eliminating the option for schools to expel students for minor misbehavior like disrespect or willful disobedience. These changes come after organizing by parents and communities with Families and Friends of Louisiana’s Incarcerated Children (FFLIC) and allies.
In RSD district-run public schools during the 2007-2008 school period, 3,537 students, or 1 in 4 students, were suspended out of school at least once according to Pushed Out a report published by FFLIC. This is more than double the statewide rate in Louisiana and over four times the national rate. Since the aforementioned period, the high rate of suspension has not changed drastically even though RSD has control over fewer schools.
In response to the high exclusionary rates, in 2007 FFLIC along with many organizations and community stakeholders came together with district staff to revise the RSD Student Code of Conduct under the state statute La RS 17:416.8 on Discipline policy review committees. FFLIC has kept the pressure on, through local and statewide organizing efforts, and has played an intricate role in reshaping the RSD Student Code of Conduct as well changing the public debate around Louisiana’s approach to school discipline.
In 2011, FFLIC organized with families and allies across the state to pass a bill that would prohibit elementary students from being suspended for minor infractions such as uniform violations. While the bill received bi-partisan support it was vetoed by Governor Jindal. But FFLIC continued to make it known that schools can no longer push kids out of school through suspensions and expulsions for minor infractions or multiple suspensions.
Changes to expulsion procedures
This year, the superintendent of the RSD has implemented some of our demands and has taken the lead on making progressive changes to improve the way we approach school discipline in Louisiana. The RSD has made significant improvements to the expulsion process and procedures in the Code of Conduct. Under the newly revised policy, students can only be recommended for expulsion for reasons such as drugs, weapons, violence on another person, burglary, or other serious misbehaviors (“level three offenses”). A student can no longer be recommended for expulsion for disrespect or willful disobedience, uniform violations, or repeated suspensions for violations not listed as level three offenses.
In spite of the changes there is room for improvement around suspensions
During the revision process FFLIC made the suggestion to delete behaviors such as “willful disobedience” and its intent from the code, which is the “catch-all” infraction for suspending students for vague and subjective reasons. However, at this time the changes have not been made. The newly revised coded lists several “non-suspendable offenses” (level one) and several “suspendable offenses” (level two), and willful disobedience is listed as a suspendable offense.
While we see the changes made to the expulsion policies as a move in the right direction, the current list of non-suspendable and suspendable “offenses” may cause confusion for parents when appealing suspensions. The newly updated code states that a student cannot be suspended for reasons such as dress code violations and talking in class at inappropriate times, but these non-suspendable reasons can be easily interpreted by adults as “willful-disobedience” which is still a suspendable “offense.” As long as willful disobedience is still a suspendable offense, high numbers of students will continue to be removed from school for minor misbehavior.
As we look at the data and advocate with families we will continue to urge the RSD and other school districts to make willful-disobedience a non-suspendable “offense” especially for children attending elementary school. We urge others to get involved with your local school district discipline policy review committee and remember that the goal is to create policies that will protect a child’s right to an education as they grow through childhood.