The move to revamp school disciplinary policies in Virginia is gaining momentum. The National Women’s Law Center has published a study, “Let Her Learn: A Tool Kit to Stop School Push Out for Girls of Color,” which advances the argument that schools are unfairly suspending girls — disproportionately blacks, Hispanics, and American Indians — for violating dress codes or “talking back.” A group of “state lawmakers and community members” met Saturday in Richmond to “prevent discrimination in the classroom,” reports WVIR. And next, according to WTOP:
Change is in the works in Virginia. The Virginia Department of Education is scheduled to review a major revision to their student code of conduct on Thursday. The Model Guidance for Positive and Preventive Code of Student Conduct Policy and Alternatives to Suspension is meant to establish framework for alternatives to short and long-term suspensions.
“We’ve taken a great deal of time to develop those guidelines, and they really do focus on less punitive responses to discipline infractions, and increased focus on the supports that students need in order to be successful in the classroom and, at the same time, frames the entire context of school discipline policies and codes of conduct with an equity lens,” said Leah Walker, the Virginia Department of Education director of equity and community engagement, at the forum.
So, the overhaul of school disciplinary policies in Virginia, which began with selective Department of Justice actions against individual school districts such as the City of Richmond and Henrico County, could well be imposed across the state. The underlying argument is (a) that the traditional approach of suspending students for disciplinary fractions is discriminatory because African-Americans are disproportionately impacted, and (b) that schools must adopt a more therapeutic, “restorative justice” approach.
This week the Board of Education is scheduled to discuss revised “Model Guidance for Positive and Preventive Code of Student Conduct Policy and Alternatives to Suspension,” a document that has been under development for 24 months. The guiding philosophy of the Model Guidance is expressed here:
[Focus] on prevention and [provide] a leveled system of responses to discipline incidents that uses instructional, restorative and age-appropriate responses before resorting to exclusionary practices while respecting the social-emotional development of children at elementary, middle, and high school.
Bacon’s bottom line: Let me be clear, the traditional disciplinary system may well be outdated and in need of reform. I’m not defending every practice, every suspension and every expulsion. But I am concerned that these new guidelines are being driven by ideology with little thought to how they will play out in practice.
I don’t want to make hard-and-fast predictions because our society is so complex with so many invisible feedback loops that nothing ever turns out quite like anyone expects. Intellectual humility should rule such discussions. But here is what I hypothesize will happen:
- The new guidelines will accelerate a continued deterioration in the classroom as misbehaving students are emboldened and as teachers, filling the role of social counselors for troubled youth, spend less time actually teaching.
- Students in classrooms with disruptive kids will learn less, which will be reflected in their Standards of Learning test scores.
- The students most negatively affected will be concentrated in schools with the greatest number of disruptive youths, which will tend to be dominated by disadvantaged or disability-suffering African-Americans.
- The pressure to deny reality will be so strong that the negative repercussions will be ignored entirely, or will be cause to double down on destructive policies on the grounds that revised guidelines weren’t strong enough.
I worry that, in the end, a program designed to reduce discrimination against African-American kids who disrupt classes will disproportionately punish African-American kids who come to school prepared to learn.
I have seen no evidence that anyone else, not even Republicans, have picked up this theme. I expect that people are afraid of being labeled as racist. As long as their own kids aren’t affected, why would politicians take the risk of sticking out their necks? Given the absolute lack of push-back, I feel certain that the new Model Guidance will be put into effect.
Virginia is embarking upon a massive social experiment in which African-American children are the guinea pigs.