For the third year in a row, representatives of social justice nonprofits in Connecticut have gone to Hartford to advocate for clearer school disciplinary policies.
The American Civil Liberties Union of Connecticut, the Connecticut Juvenile Justice Alliance, Center for Children’s Advocacy and Connecticut Voices for Children provided testimony in front of the Connecticut Education Committee in support of the two bills that have been introduced in the state legislature’s General Assembly. The two bills — one introduced by the education committee and the other at the behest of Connecticut Gov. Dannel Malloy — would require that local and regional boards of education collaborate with law enforcement to agree upon a more graduated response to disciplinary action in Connecticut schools.
“By increasing mutual understanding of roles between schools and police and data transparency, these bills will help guarantee that exclusionary discipline practices are used appropriately and equitably,” policy fellow at CT Voices for Children Edie Joseph ’12, said in her testimony submitted to the education committee yesterday.
These bills would require that schools institute a memorandum of agreement with police to negotiate a graduated response to discipline in schools. These agreements delineate the roles that the school and police play in the disciplinary process, Joseph told the News. Currently, there is no official statewide protocol for how police and schools should respond to students who violate school policy, either criminally or non-criminally.
Lara Herscovitch, the deputy director of the CJJA, said that memoranda of agreement are just one way in which policy makers can tackle discipline in schools, and that memoranda of agreement have already been effective in Connecticut schools that have chosen to adopt the policy.
Martha Stone, the executive director at the CCA, said that though the CCA is in full support of the bills passing, they have not been heavily involved in pushing for the legislation this year because cities where youth most frequently enter the juvenile justice system — New Haven, Bridgeport and Hartford — have already signed memoranda of agreement. Stone said creating memoranda of agreement prevents students from unnecessarily getting arrested and entering the formal justice system.
In a report released by CT Voices for Children last month, it was found that 9 percent of student arrests, 6 percent of expulsions, 50 percent of out-of-school suspensions, and 79 percent of in-school suspensions were the result of “school policy violations.”
“The diversion of children away from the entrance to what we call the school-to-prison pipeline is good for everyone — the children, the schools, the criminal justice system and society in general,” Sandra Staub, the legal director of the ACLU of Connecticut, said in the ACLU testimony before the committee.
In addition to creating memoranda of agreement, the bill would also require the Department of Education to examine school-based arrest data and disaggregate it by school, race, ethnicity, gender, age and students with disabilities. The ACLU, the CJJA and CT Voices for Children all expressed strong support for this requirement in their testimonies. They also all emphasized the need to create clear definitions of terms such as “school-based arrest.”
State Rep. Andrew Fleischmann and Sen. Gayle Slossberg, the co-chairs of the Connecticut Education Committee, could not be reached for comment on Wednesday.
Both Herscovitch and Joseph said they are hopeful for the outcome of the bill.
“I strongly believe that we’ve all collectively now raised enough awareness of the crisis of arrests in our public schools and that the majority of legislators understand that it’s an issue that needs to be addressed,” Herscovitch said.
The bill will be voted upon sometime between now and March 30.
Correction: Feb. 26
A previous version of this article incorrectly stated that two bills were introduced by the legislature’s Democratic leadership when, in fact, one was introduced by the education committee.