Kaine raises questions about discriminatory discipline practices in school classrooms
Kaine has heard local concerns about this issue from students, parents, teachers, and school officials across Virginia. Betsy DeVos’ Department of Education is tasked with implementing the Every Student Succeeds Act (ESSA) and ensuring that minority students and students with disabilities are protected, but so far implementation has lagged behind expectations.
“One of the requirements in ESSA was that states would have to describe how the state will support local educational agencies receiving assistance to improve school conditions for student learning including through reducing ‘the overuse of discipline practices that remove students from the classroom,’” Kaine said. “Often discipline practices have been utilized in ways that are highly discriminatory, especially against minority students, and kids then absorb that lesson and they think they’re gonna get in trouble more likely than their peers and that affects their learning.”
While black students make up 23% of Virginia’s student population across the Commonwealth, they represent 59% of short-term suspensions, 57% of long-term suspensions, and 43% of expulsions, according to the latest data released by the Virginia Department of Education for the 2015-2016 school year. Across the country, black students are suspended at three times the rate of white students. Additionally, while students with disabilities make up 12% of overall enrollment, they represent 26% of students who received one or more out-of-school suspensions during the 2015-16 school year.
In an effort to learn from their experiences, Kaine called on witnesses in the hearing from various states to explain what they are doing to review and utilize data on school discipline to make sure that historically underserved students are not unfairly penalized in an effort to learn from their experiences. The witnesses echoed Kaine’s concerns about the disproportionate penalization of minority students in schools and emphasized the need to keep students in the classroom, not push them out.
In March, Kaine led colleagues in urging the Education Department to focus on school safety. Last year, Kaine wrote a letter to Secretary Betsy DeVos calling on her to address the persistent, disproportionate impact of exclusionary and aversive discipline practices on groups of historically marginalized students.