In January, Vermont Legal Aid released Kicked Out! Unfair and Unequal Student Discipline in Vermont Public Schools, a report analyzing school discipline using data from the federal Office for Civil Rights and the Vermont Agency of Education’s records for 2011-2012. Major findings reveal that Vermont is, sadly, consistent with national data about unequal application of school discipline. In Vermont, more than 8,000 days of suspension were levied on students, and students with disabilities were almost three times as likely as non-disabled students to be suspected. African-American and Native American students were two-to-three times more likely than White students to be suspended. Suspension rates and referrals to law enforcement vary greatly by county (even with similar student demographics). Limitations in Vermont’s own data-recording practices prevent closer investigation of some matters (the state does not track students in the custody of the Department for Children and Families, nor does it track disciplinary data in relation to family income.
The report recommends four steps toward more a more equitable situation:
1. Limit disciplinary exclusion and its collateral effects
2. Allow students to continue to learn during exclusion and provide the necessary resources
3. Ensure and upgrade students’ constitutional and civil rights in disciplinary proceedings.
4.Find positive school discipline program examples in Vermont by ensuring accurate and timely reporting of school discipline data.
These recommendations would go a long way to improve the climate for learning in Vermont schools. Many Vermont schools already implement some form of positive discipline (such as restorative justice or PBIS). The report recognizes that such programs should be implemented more widely and will require additional professional development. Providing more educational resources for students who are subject to discipline will preserve students’ connection to academic development, and the actions that would promote better parental awareness of students’ rights is important.
NCTE members can look for opportunities to press their districts and schools about the availability of positive disciplinary strategies. In Burlington, the state’s largest district, the school board’s Diversity and Equity Committee reviews disciplinary data monthly.