On Friday, October 7, 2016, the Children’s Policy and Law Initiative held their annual Public Policy Summit. This year’s summit was Moving Forward with Positive Learning Environments in Indiana. Approximately 80 people were in attendance and most attendees were educators. This summit was a great opportunity for stakeholders who are closest to students to come together and improve educational environments for all students.
Keynote speaker Dr. Brea L. Perry, Associate Professor of Sociology at Indiana University, shared her research about the ties between exclusionary school discipline (out of school suspension and expulsion) and academic success. According to her research, one in three students will be suspended in their lifetime. The greatest number of suspensions, 40%, were for disruptive behaviors such as disrespect, backtalking to teachers, excessive talking, etc. This was alarming due to the subjective nature of this category. Regardless of who was suspended, academic outcomes were affected for all students in schools with high exclusionary discipline incidents. We know learning outcomes are diminished for students who are absent because of suspensions, but knowing these suspensions threatens the learning of students who were not suspended makes it an urgent area of need to address.
Following the Dr. Perry’s presentation, Russell Skiba, director of the Equity Project at Indiana University moderated a panel: Advancing Positive School Discipline in Indiana Schools, where panel participants: Brandon Hawkins, principal of Tecumseh Junior High School in Lafayette School Corporation; Dr. Brandie Oliver, Associate Professor of Education at Butler University; Debra Williams-Robbins, Chief Officer of Student, Family and Community Engagement for Fort Wayne Community Schools and me, a literacy coach in Indianapolis Public School and an adjunct instructor at Indiana University – Indianapolis, shared our thoughts about the report CPLI released June 30, 2016 which outlined nine recommendations to improve environments in Indiana schools. Panel members also shared ways we could improve environments through our current or previous work in education. Mr. Hawkins shared how schools needed to build a better relationships with school resource officers (SROs) to ensure the school and SROs are on the same page on how to best serve students. Dr. Oliver emphasized the importance of training educators on how to teach and support students who have suffered trauma. When the other panel members were speaking, I was processing all the various opening statements I could make when I had the opportunity to first speak and the first words out of my mouth was, “We need to lead with love and not fear.” I was not planning to say those exact words, but those were the right words to share. In this field, it is easy to drown in the what-ifs — If I try this strategy to improve my classroom environment/culture what will my principal think? How will this effect my evaluation? How will I be able to help my students pass the standardized tests? What will my colleagues think? Will I be supported? We have become so immersed in the fear of what will happen that we are not doing what is best for children.
The second panel, Protecting the Legal Rights of Students Interrogated at School was moderated by Frances Watson from Indiana University School of Law. Panel members were: Dr. Alan Bouriff, superintendent of Hamilton Southeastern Schools; Jack Kenney parent; D. J. Schoeff, school resource office for Carmel High school and Shannon O’Toole Juvenile Public Defender in Marion County. Panel members shared their thoughts about the briefing paper: Children’s Statements in School Investigations. All panel members agreed students needed to be informed of their rights and know how statements they make at school could be used in court. They all agreed it is important parents/guardians are informed if their child is questioned. The point of concern for schools and student resource officers was how would respecting this potential law impede their ability to conduct an investigation in a timely manner if parents/guardians cannot be contacted or are not available. Many panel members echoed ideas shared by the first panel and Mr. Schoeff quoted my statement, “We should lead with love and not fear” when he spoke. I did not know how those particular words would be received because it sounds so simple, but many times the simple solution could be the best solution.
What’s most important is the right people were part of this conversation and in the audience asking questions and making suggestions to panel members. It is easy to attend events of this nature and become energized but not move forward with the work. I am convinced we will not let this be the case. I am looking forward to how schools across our state will improve as their environments change for the better.
- Summit Agenda and Speaker Biographies
- Leaders Collaborating to Advance Positive School Discipline in Indiana Report and Recommendations
- “The Overuse of Suspension in American Public Schools Threatens the Success of all Students by Dr. Brea L. Perry
- National Juvenile Justice Network School Discipline & Security Personnel: A Tip Sheet for Advocates on Maximizing School Safety and Student Success
- Briefing Paper: Children’s Statements in School Investigations