07.26.17

McEachin, Kaine, Beyer, Warner & 55+ Members Urge Secretary DeVos to Reduce Discipline in Schools

WASHINGTON – TODAY, more than 60 Members of Congress sent a bicameral letter to Secretary DeVos urging her to take steps toward reducing excessive discipline in schools.

“This concern, the inappropriate punishment of schoolchildren and steps to eliminate it, is critical and that is why I felt it important to write this letter. I am so pleased to have Senator Kaine, with his experience and wisdom, collaborate with me, and to be joined by my Virginia colleague Don Beyer,” said Congressman Donald McEachin.  “Forty-eight congressmen and 11 senators, including the entire Virginia Democratic delegation, have signed this, a clear demonstration of the timeliness and importance of this issue.”

“The Obama Administration made important strides in reducing school discipline practices that push students out of the classroom and disproportionately affect students of color and students with disabilities,” said Senator Tim Kaine. “I'm joining Rep. McEachin and my colleagues in asking Secretary DeVos how she will ensure that we don't backtrack on the progress we’ve made. This is an issue Virginia school districts are working on, and under ESSA the federal government is required to work with states to address it. We need to ensure school discipline policies actually help students improve their behavior instead of removing them from their learning environments.”

 

The Department of Education has an obligation to take steps toward reducing exclusionary and aversive discipline practices in schools under the Every Student Succeeds Act (ESSA). Congressman Donald McEachin is pleased that of the 62 Members of Congress, Senator Warner and Ranking Member Bobby Scott also signed the letter, showing the severity of this issue in Virginia, and across the nation. 

 

“We believe it is well within the scope of the Department’s authority to continue taking steps towards reducing exclusionary and aversive discipline practices in schools and that the Department has an obligation to take such steps under the Every Student Succeeds Act (ESSA). As such, the reduction of exclusionary discipline practices was explicitly addressed by the 114th Congress in the bipartisan 2015 amendments to the Elementary and Secondary Education Act (ESEA), known as ESSA, through inclusion of provisions in Title I-A.,” wrote the Members of Congress. “ESSA also encourages schools implementing a Title I schoolwide program to include ‘implementation of a schoolwide tiered model to prevent and address problem behavior’ as a strategy to meet the needs of all students in their required plans.”

 

“In light of concerns in my congressional district, across Virginia and across the country, I thought it was important to ask Secretary DeVos how she will address school discipline procedures,” said Congressman Donald McEachin. “Far too often, I fear, students in my congressional district can be subjected to harsh and unreasonable punishment in our schools. No student can learn and reach his or her potential if they are unnecessarily excluded from the classroom. During my tenure at the General Assembly, I worked with parents and advocates to reduce out of school suspensions. I am continuing this work in Congress.”

 

Congressman McEachin formed the Education Task Force in April to examine the disparities in out of school suspensions for both minority and special needs students and to look at the difficulties special needs students have in obtaining necessary services.

 

Congressman McEachin also wrote the Office of Civil Rights (OCR) to ask for an investigation into these issues within the Congressional District several months ago. Although he has asked for an update, he has heard nothing substantive from OCR.

 

Full letter text here and below.

 

The following Senators also signed this letter:

Ranking Member Patty Murray (D-WA), Minority Whip Dick Durbin (D-IL), Tammy Baldwin (D-WI), Cory Booker (D-NJ), Sherrod Brown (D-OH), Bob Casey (D-PA), Margaret Wood Hassan (D-NH), Edward J. Markey (D-MA), Christopher Murphy (D- CT), Chris Van Hollen (D-MD), and Mark R. Warner (D-VA).

 

The following Representatives also signed this letter:

Ranking Member Bobby Scott (VA-03), Alma S. Adams (NC-12), Earl Blumenauer (OR-03), Anthony G. Brown (MD-04), Julia Brownley (CA-26), Suzanne Bonamici (OR-01), André Carson (IN-07), Yvette D. Clarke (NY-09), Steve Cohen (TN-09), Gerald E. Connolly (VA-11), John Conyers, Jr. (MI-13), Elijah E. Cummings (MD-07), Danny K. Davis (IL-07), Susan A. Davis (CA-53), Rosa L. DeLauro (CT-03), Mark DeSaulnier (CA-11), Keith Ellison (MN-5), Eliot L. Engel (NY-16), Adriano Espaillat (NY-13), Dwight Evans (PA-02), Marcia L. Fudge (OH-11), Al Green (TX-09), Raúl M. Grijalva (AZ-03), Luis V. Gutiérrez (IL-04), Alcee L. Hastings (FL-20), Pramila Jayapal (WA-07), Eddie Bernice Johnson (TX-30), Marcy Kaptur (0H-09), Ro Khanna (CA-17), Jim Langevin (RI-02), Brenda L. Lawrence (MI-14), Barbara Lee (CA-13), John Lewis (GA-05), Sean Patrick Maloney (NY-18), Betty McCollum (MN-04), James P. McGovern (MA-02), Gwen S. Moore (WI-04), Grace F. Napolitano (CA-32), Eleanor Holmes Norton (DC), Donald M. Payne, Jr. (NJ-10), Jared Polis (CO-02), Jamie Raskin (MD-08), Cedric L. Richmond (LA-02), Lucille Roybal-Allard (CA-40), Carol Shea-Porter (NH-01), Juan Vargas (CA-50), Bonnie Watson Coleman (NJ-12), Frederica S. Wilson (FL-24)

 

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July 26, 2017

 

 

The Honorable Betsy DeVos

Secretary

U.S. Department of Education

400 Maryland Avenue, SW

Washington, DC 20202

 

Dear Secretary DeVos:

 

We are writing to request information about how the Department of Education (“Department”) will work with states to reduce exclusionary and aversive discipline in public schools around the country. We are pleased to see the Department open investigations in districts such as Richmond, VA; however, we believe these investigations are limited in scope and do not adequately address the systemic issue of discipline disparities in our nation’s schools.

 

In the 2013-14 school year, approximately 2.8 million students received one or more out of school suspensions from public schools according to the biennial Civil Rights Data Collection (CRDC). The CRDC also showed that black students and students with disabilities were more likely to be subjected to exclusionary discipline measures than their same age peers. Under the previous administration, a growing reversal of the "zero-tolerance" or "no excuses" disciplinary approach helped decrease national rates of exclusionary discipline practices that included out-of-school suspension and expulsions. Despite these national trends, many public schools continue to suspend and expel minority students and students with disabilities at alarmingly disproportionate rates.

 

Investigations are necessary to eliminate discriminatory practices, yet research is clear that proactive, systemic measures are also needed to truly make an impact on reducing exclusionary and aversive discipline. School-wide implementation of positive behavioral interventions and supports (PBIS), multi-tiered systems of support (MTSS), universal design for learning (UDL), trauma-informed care, crisis intervention, and de-escalation strategies can lead to decreased exclusionary and aversive discipline practices when implemented with fidelity. The previous administration worked to improve school climate and “rethink” discipline over its tenure with guidance documents on seclusion and restraint, ending corporal punishment, and strategies to address the behavioral needs of students with disabilities; improved access to the CRDC; initiatives with the Department of Justice; and policies such as the Equity in IDEA rule.

 

We believe it is well within the scope of the Department’s authority to continue taking steps towards reducing exclusionary and aversive discipline practices in schools and that the Department has an obligation to take such steps under the Every Student Succeeds Act (ESSA). As such, the reduction of exclusionary discipline practices was explicitly addressed by the 114th Congress in the bipartisan 2015 amendments to the Elementary and Secondary Education Act (ESEA), known as ESSA, through inclusion of provisions in Title I-A. State educational agencies are, for the first time, required by federal law to describe in their Title I state plan, how they will support local education agencies (LEAs) to “improve school conditions for student learning including through reducing – (i) incidences of bullying and harassment; (ii) the overuse of discipline practices that remove students from the classroom; and (iii) the use of aversive behavioral interventions that compromise student health and safety” (Sec. 1111(g)(1)(C)). ESSA also encourages schools implementing a Title I schoolwide program to include “implementation of a schoolwide tiered model to prevent and address problem behavior” as a strategy to meet the needs of all students in their required plans (Sec. 1114(b)(7)(A)(iii)(III)).

 

Currently, states are developing and submitting their ESSA state plans to the Department. On May 12, the Department announced the 16 states that submitted plans in the first submission period were complete and that the plans were aligned to the framework released earlier in the year. The peer review process recently began for the 16 state plans, and it is critical this process ensures not only completion but quality elements in the state plan, especially regarding exclusionary discipline and school conditions. The peer review process should ensure states adequately described the steps they will take to support LEAs to reduce practices and develop proactive discipline approaches rather than suspensions, expulsions, seclusion, and restraint.

 

In light of the statutory requirements to address school conditions and our ongoing concern of the discipline procedures used by schools, we request answers to the following questions:

 

  1. Please describe the concrete steps you will take to support reduction in the use of exclusionary discipline practices through ESSA implementation, specifically support for states to develop Title I or consolidated state plans that provide sufficiently descriptive information on how they will support LEAs in reducing the use of exclusionary and aversive behavioral interventions, and your commitment to disapprove state plans that fail to fulfill this requirement.

 

  1. What steps will be taken through the peer-review process to ensure states provide high-quality descriptions of how they will support local education agencies in reducing aversive practices? Further, will you deny a state plan that does not meet the quality checks during the peer review process?

 

  1. Describe how you plan to support the expansion of research-based practices, such as PBIS, MTSS, UDL, trauma-informed care, crisis intervention, and de-escalation strategies, to reduce exclusionary discipline practices in schools.

 

  1. Please describe additional steps, such as technical assistance, regulations, or guidance, the Department will take to reduce exclusionary discipline practices and identify disproportionate and discriminatory policies related to discipline.

 

Thank you for your attention to these critical issues impacting our nation’s students. Reducing exclusionary and aversive discipline issues is an important step forward in ensuring all students receive an equitable, high-quality education.

 

Sincerely,

 

Press Contact

Jamitress Bowden (202) 225-6365