Bills seek to study, fund alternatives to suspensions, explusions

I-Team 8

INDIANAPOLIS (WISH) – A bill that would require the state to develop a database that tracks how schools discipline students appears to be in jeopardy.

Indianapolis lawmaker Rep. Greg Porter (D-Indianapolis) says his bill will mostly likely not be brought to a vote in committee this week and won’t be called this session.

The bill, House Bill 1558, calls for the state’s department of education to work in concert with other state educational institutions to develop guidelines and “a model” for improving student behavior.

It also calls for the creation of a searchable database “concerning the history and current status of disproportionality in in-school suspensions and out-of-school suspensions, expulsions, and arrests on school property in school corporations and charter schools” and asks that the department work in concert, with the department of child services, the division of mental health and addiction, parents and state educational institutions in developing a plan.

“Suspensions and expulsions are very high and we want to be able to close the gap. We want to eliminate the disparities in education,” Porter told I-Team 8 in an interview Monday.

Porter called his bill “too hardcore” in its requirements of educators and school administrators. But he remains confident that similar legislation in the Senate may address the issue of student discipline.

Senate Bill 500, in part, seeks to streamline the collection and analysis of school data, according to one of its authors, Sen. Pete Miller, (R-Avon).

Senate Bill 443, meanwhile, calls for allowing schools to apply for grants that could then be used to train counselors and teachers and alternatives to suspension and expulsion.

“This is not only an issue here, this is across the nation. The civil rights of children are being stepped on because of individuals who are not culturally competent or are not aware of what a student is doing,” Porter said.

I-Team 8’s investigation this month into student discipline found that more than 6,000 Indianapolis Public School students were suspended last year. That’s one out of every five students enrolled.

Some worry that by kicking students out of class, school districts might be further exacerbating the so-called school-to-prison pipeline.

New research by an Indiana University professor suggests schools that often suspend students create a punitive environment that results in lower test scores among all students.

“What our research suggests is that suspension is not good for anyone. This idea that we should use suspension to create this better learning environment – we are not seeing that at all in our data,” said IU sociology professor Brea Perry in an interview with I-Team 8.

Perry’s research, done while she was at the University of Kentucky, was recently published in the American Sociological Review. It examined the same students attending a large urban school district in Kentucky over the course of several years. What Perry and her research partner discovered is that reading and math scores of all students lowered when suspensions were up.

“I think I can say with certainty that kids in these highly punitive environments perform worse,” Perry told I-Team 8.BY THE NUMBERS

An I-Team 8 analysis of school records showed IPS handed out-of-school suspensions to more than 5,400 students in the 2012-2013 school year*. Last school year, that figure grew to more than 6,000. Disciplinary records within the district are broken down by 17 categories that included reasons for suspensions and expulsions. They include things like alcohol, drugs, weapons, fighting, profanity and violence among others.

(*Our analysis found an anomaly in discipline records on the state department of education’s website and numbers provided to I-Team 8 by IPS. State records show there were approximately 3,600 students given out-of-school suspensions in the 2012-13 school year. IPS records show there were 5,495. However, both records indicate the percentage of students being suspended grew between the 2012-13 and 2013-2014 school years.)

In 2014, two combined categories of fighting and battery account for more than 2,200 of the out-of-school suspensions in IPS. The single highest category for suspension that year was defiance – with 1,941 suspensions.Report continues below this image:

When asked if the district is suspending too many children, Deborah Leser, IPS director of student services said, “I don’t think I can answer that, and I don’t think you’re going to find anybody who can answer that.”

In a follow-up question, when pressed about whether the number of students being suspended was acceptable, Leser said, “Absolutely not. And we’ve worked very hard this year. We’ve actually decreased our disciplinary referrals over 40 percent this year.”

While IPS did provide I-Team 8 with disciplinary records for the 2012-13 and 2013-14 school years, the district did not have updated figures for this school year, nor did they allow our cameras access to any of their 67 schools despite repeated requests.

Report continues below this table:

 2013-2014 Marion County Out-Of-School Suspensions

In our lengthy interview, Leser did acknowledge that the district is aware of its high rate of suspensions and said it is making strides to correct it by working to draft a code of conduct to serve as a guideline for students, parents and teachers on ways to correct behaviors that might result in an exclusionary suspension or expulsion.

Leser, a former teacher and principal now serving in the IPS central office, also said the IPS has sought to model its code of conduct after one adopted by a Fort Wayne school district, which she said has seen success and reduce its suspensions.

“Suspending a student doesn’t really do anything. It doesn’t really help anybody, it just puts them out of school. And when they come back those same problems are still there,” she said.

When asked why IPS still suspends so much, she replied, “Well, we have reduced our referrals by over 40 percent, so we are trying to remedy that.”

Copyright 2019 Nexstar Broadcasting, Inc. All rights reserved. This material may not be published, broadcast, rewritten, or redistributed.

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