The Minnesota Department of Human Rights announced April 26 that it has reached collaborative agreements with 10 Minnesota public school districts and charter schools to reduce disparities in suspension and expulsion rates for students with disabilities and students of color. The state’s analysis showed Minnesota students of color comprise 31 percent of the population, yet receive 66 percent of all suspensions and expulsions. Students with disabilities comprise 14 percent of the population, yet receive 43 percent of all suspensions and expulsions.
Those with settlement agreements include Bloomington School District, Cass Lake-Bena School District, Mankato School District, North St. Paul-Maplewood-Oakdale, Robbinsdale School District, Best Academy Charter School, Dugsi Academy Charter School, Mastery Academy Charter School, Prairie Seeds Academy Charter School and St. Paul City Charter School. State officials are continuing negotiations with additional school districts and charter schools. Another round of agreements is anticipated in the weeks ahead.
“I want to thank the leaders of these 10 districts and charter schools for coming to the table, having productive conversations, and identifying their own solutions tailored to their independent communities to address the statewide problem of disparities in discipline. These leaders are not alone with dealing with these disparities—but they are the first to stand up, lean in and drive toward solutions. In our meetings with school districts and charter schools, we heard time and again that Minnesota can do more to support our educators and students to achieve success in the classroom and in life. Kids simply can’t learn if they are not in school. These agreements are a crucial step in ensuring we are doing all we can to help Minnesota students develop their interpersonal and learning skills so they can thrive,” said Human Rights Commissioner Kevin Lindsey.
The agreements don’t involve student discipline decisions made by school officials when safety was a concern or a student was in possession of a weapon or illegal drugs. Agreements focus on schools finding alternatives to suspension for challenges such as disorderly and disruptive behavior, verbal abuse and other non-violent offenses. More than a third of all suspensions and expulsion decisions reported throughout Minnesota every year are for insubordination, disruptive and disorderly conduct.
The agreements are intended to alleviate disparities in suspensions and expulsions to allow every student the chance to participate fully in education, to partner with educators to address the implicit bias that influences perceptions of student behavior, and to increase student and community engagement. The agreements allow school officials to develop unique strategies to retain local control in student discipline decisions, maintain effective learning environments that promote academic success, and offer alternatives to suspension that keep students in school.
“There is no cause greater than providing a great education to all children,” said Superintendent Rochelle Johnson, Cass Lake-Bena Public Schools. “We must all find pathways to keep children in schools as well as make that school time a positive experience in their lives.” State Rep. Carlos Mariani Rosa leads the Minnesota Education Equity Partnership. “Closing academic gaps can’t be done without advancing civil rights and with the state’s help, our schools can do that while designing better ways to create safe schools where all students learn.”
Justin Tiarks, principal at St. Paul City School, said the agreements acknowledge that education is changing. “Since implementing restorative practices, we have seen a reduction in suspensions of 90 percent sustained over two years and we have not expelled a single child. We solve problems by pulling students and families into a web of support and community instead of pushing them away. With the right supports, alternatives to exclusionary discipline do exist.”
“PACER supports the collaborative efforts of the Minnesota Department of Human Rights, school districts, and charter schools to address discipline disparities,” said Paula Goldberg, PACER executive director. “Through our work with families of children with disabilities, we see the negative impact that exclusionary discipline practices have on students’ ability to learn.”
The agreements are in effect through 2021. Districts and charter schools will implement a three-year plan to ensure that data collection, discipline policies and behavior management strategies are consistently implemented across the entire system. Reporting and training requirements must be met. Schools will participate on a state-led Diversion Committee, to share best practices to reduce suspensions and eliminate disparities, implement implicit bias training and increase student engagement. Community engagement is a key focus.