Student arrests, expulsions and suspensions in Connecticut have dropped significantly between 2008 and 2013, according to a report released Thursday by Connecticut Voices for Children.
According to the report, between 2008 and 2013, Connecticut schools have seen a 35 percent decrease in school arrests, a 31 percent decrease in expulsions and a 47 percent reduction in school suspensions in the five-year period. Despite the progress, the report suggests that some cases of arrest and expulsion could have been handled within the school. Furthermore, minority students, students of lower socio-economic status and students with learning disabilities are more likely than others to be suspended, expelled or arrested.
“This report tells us that many schools in Connecticut have reformed their disciplinary practices and reduced student arrests, expulsions and out-of-school suspensions,” Executive Director of Connecticut Voices for Children Ellen Shemitz said in a press release. “Yet these reforms have not benefited all children equally. How can we hope to reduce the yawning achievement gap when school disciplinary practices push minority children out of school at disproportionate rates?”
Though the report does not offer explicit explanations why these rates have dropped, Edie Joseph ’12, one of the authors of the report, pointed to several programs dealing with school disciplinary policies as contributors to the decline. As examples of these programs, the report highlights pilot projects including the Center for Children’s Advocacy, which trains school staff and law enforcement to appropriately respond to disciplinary issues, as well as the Connecticut Juvenile Justice Alliance, which advocates for a formal delineation of disciplinary response policies between police officers and schools.
Joseph said this formal agreement, known as a memorandum of agreement, is crucial to transparent policies.
“It makes a uniform standard for how student disciplinary policies should be implemented,” Joseph said.
According to the report, though blacks and Latinos are minorities within the school system, they are disproportionately represented in the population of arrested, expelled and suspended students. In 2013, though blacks made up 13 percent of the school population, they made up 32 percent of school arrests. Similarly, Hispanic and Latino students made up 20.4 percent of the school population but accounted for 32.9 percent of school arrests.
There is a similarly disproportionate rate of arrests amongst students identified as having special education needs.
“What this report really points to is that there are a lot of ways that inequalities and inequities are exacerbated,” said Joseph. “Kids are pushed out of school for things that could be dealt with within the classroom.”
Behavior such as tardiness, use of profanity and disruptive behavior result in 11 percent of student arrests. The top three reasons that students were arrested in school in 2013 were fighting or battery, drugs, alcohol and tobacco, and physical or verbal confrontations.
The report also cited guidelines released by the Department of Education in 2014, which state schools should not typically use law enforcement approaches to address disciplinary issues.
“[Schools should be] relying on suspension and expulsion only as a last resort and for appropriately serious infractions, and equipping staff with alternative strategies to address problem behaviors while keeping all students engaged in instruction to the greatest extent possible,” the guidelines say.
In 2010, the Connecticut Department of Education released a report with guidelines that delineated the rules of in-school and out-of-school suspensions.