April 4, 2018

Educators for Excellence Teachers Meet with Secretary DeVos and Urge Her to Uphold Discipline Guidance

April 4 (New York) — On the 50th anniversary of Martin Luther King Jr.’s assassination, six teachers from Educators for Excellence (E4E), a teacher-led organization, and E4E Co-Founder and Co-CEO Evan Stone, met with U.S. Secretary of Education Betsy DeVos today to urge her to keep Obama-era guidance that helps teachers discipline students without discriminating.   

Secretary DeVos has said she is considering rescinding the guidance, and conservative lawmakers have attacked the guidance in the wake of the Parkland massacre. E4E teachers and Stone spoke passionately in favor of the non-exclusionary discipline strategies teachers have begun implementing in their schools to foster safer environments that support students’ academic, social and emotional growth. Their quotes are below:

Tynisha Jointer, Behavioral Health Specialist for K-4 in Chicago, IL: “Many people in education have begun to recognize the disproportionality in how students are disciplined, particularly when we’re talking about students of color or students with special needs. We need to continue to examine how we’re disciplining so we can ensure that we’re not discriminating against students in the process. Moreover, we need to be employing strategies that work with students, that help them develop skills in conflict resolution, that help them cope with traumas they’ve experienced and that help them repair and rebuild relationships. These are the skills that will help them stay in school and bring them success in the outside world. The discipline guidance is a critical, non-binding tool that points educators to these best practices.”

Fallon Daniels, assistant principal at Danbury High School in Danbury, CT: “Suspensions and other punitive punishments are used as an attempt to find a one-size-fits-all solution to a myriad of issues. Unfortunately, there is no one solution. There are many reasons students may feel unsafe, from mental health issues to anxiety about their citizenship status to surroundings permeated with violence and drug use. Schools must meet students’ challenges with climates that offer support and guidance, not overly harsh punishment. Strategies like those outlined in the guidance allow educators like us to give students the higher-order thinking skills that improve their academic and social-emotional learning and, ultimately, the school climate overall.”

Marisa Crabtree, English/AVID teacher at Lincoln High School in Los Angeles, CA: “These guidelines have helped LAUSD address the causes of misbehavior before they start. Because of this guidance, I can get to the root of the issue and teach students to manage their behaviors and avoid disruptions. Relying on punitive discipline like suspensions does not solve the problem and creates an antagonistic and unproductive environment. This guidance does more to hold students accountable and ultimately improve behavior than suspensions ever can, creating a positive climate that gives students a productive pathway to express the pain and hurt they may have experienced in creative - rather than destructive - outlets.”

Olinka Crusoe, English as a New Language teacher at New Bridges Elementary, K532 in New York City, NY: “Every day, each student in my school is welcomed into the school by the principal and assistant principal. They’re greeted by teachers and staff who know not just their academic needs, but their personalities and strengths. Their parents observe and volunteer in their classrooms. When students know that the adults in their lives care about them and are looking out for them, they thrive. I urge Secretary DeVos to uphold the 2014 guidance that gives schools the tools to recognize and support the whole child.”

Nina Leuzzi, pre-K teacher at Bridge Boston Charter School in Boston, MA: “I am incredibly lucky to be part of a school staff that prioritizes creating a system of restorative discipline as opposed to one that is reactive and punitive. By putting an emphasis on social-emotional learning, trauma-informed teaching and unpacking what culturally-responsive practices should look like, students, teachers and families are able to work together to support each other, which has a profound effect on school culture and climate. The discipline guidance challenges us all, individual teachers, schools, districts, states and the nation to look at students as individuals who we aim to serve regardless of their behavior, ending unnecessary exclusion and bias discipline so that every child is valued and known.”

Charise Powell, fourth-grade teacher at Hiawatha Academy Northrop in Minneapolis, MN: “As a teacher, I know the purpose of education is academic, social and emotional development. Exclusionary discipline does not teach them what they need to know in life, only that school is not for them. This guidance asks teachers to think beyond exclusionary discipline to create a supportive structure that fosters learning opportunities while holding them accountable. Students have faced all kinds of trauma that weighs them down, and you can’t move forward until you face that. When you take their trauma into account and use strategies in the guidance to address that trauma as well as their behavior, you can make progress.”

Evan Stone, E4E Co-Founder and Co-CEO: “There is consensus that extensive discipline disparities exist between historically underserved student populations and their peers. Nationwide, black students are suspended at three times the rates of their white classmates, and students with disabilities are two times more likely to be suspended and expelled than general education students. E4E teachers came to D.C. on the 50th anniversary of Martin Luther King Jr.’s assassination to share with Secretary DeVos that the Federal Department of Education has a critical role to play in protecting the civil rights of all students and as a result must continue to highlight the disparities that exist in school discipline, investigate districts where those disparities may be caused by bias, and support the implementation of strategies to reduce punitive discipline. These amazing teachers know what works and have seen how the non-binding guidance gives teachers valuable, proven tools to use in their classrooms, such as restorative justice and positive behavior strategies. E4E teachers that are leading this work every single day in their classrooms across the country hope that the Department will preserve and build on this guidance that benefits educators and students alike.”

Last fall, E4E launched the campaign, In Class, Not Cuffs, driven by hundreds of teachers who have written letters and op-eds. A group of E4E teachers met with then Acting Assistant Secretary of the Office for Civil Rights Candice Jackson in December 2017 to express the need to preserve the discipline guidance. Twenty-three major organizations from across the country also signed a letter sent to Secretary DeVos, in which they stressed: “This federal guidance remains essential for holding our school systems accountable at the local level and for keeping this issue at the center of the national dialogue so that communities can work together to create solutions that bring an end to racial and discipline disparities and provide support so that all students can succeed in our nation.”

E4E plans to continue its campaign and has invited Secretary DeVos to hear from additional teachers in town-hall style meetings around the country.

E4E teachers have spoken out clearly on school climate and discipline disparities and authored the following policy papers with original research and solutions:

  • In Minnesota, teachers wrote a school-based action guide, Ending Racial Discipline Disparities, to help educators end racial discipline disparities through evidence-backed strategies.
  • In Los Angeles, educators advocated for ways to implement the 2013 School Climate Bill of Rights, with the goal of reducing racial discipline disparities across LAUSD in The Equity Movement.
  • In Chicago, teachers recognized the need to support the social-emotional well-being of students across the district in their paper Sounding the Alarm: Building the Climate & Culture Our Students Need.
  • In Boston, educators recognized how trauma can affect student behavior in school in their paper,Schools That Heal, and recommended improving professional development for trauma-informed teaching.
  • In New York, teachers published Climate Change, in which they recommending more student centered, non-punitive discipline systems, and have successfully advocated for expanding restorative justice programs since its publishing.
  • In Connecticut, educators from New Haven advocated for district-wide supports for improving school climate and student support in their paper It Takes A Village.