DC puts limits on student suspensions

WASHINGTON — A bill that puts strict limits on suspensions for D.C. students passed through the D.C. Council on a unanimous vote Tuesday.

Under the measure, D.C. public schools will be allowed to give students out-of-school suspensions only for the most serious offenses.

Students cannot receive such a suspension “unless a school determines that the student has willfully caused, attempted to cause, or threatened to cause significant bodily injury or emotional distress to another person,” the bill states.

Out-of-school suspensions will be limited to five consecutive days in kindergarten through eighth grade.

For high school students, the limit rises to 10 days.

The legislation lays out specific information about minor offenses that cannot lead to out-of-school suspensions in high school, such as violating the dress code, being late to class and being absent.

“We know how negatively suspensions and expulsions affect the students pushed out of school — they are more likely to fail academically, to drop out and to end up involved in the criminal justice system,” said Council Member David Grosso.

For students who do end up getting out-of-school suspensions, their schools will be required to have a plan in place for bringing them back to the classroom and continuing the students’ education while they are gone, making sure they receive all their assignments.

“We need to change our approach to set every student up for academic success,” said Grosso.

“For our students of color, our young girls and our students who need additional educational supports, this is a civil rights bill.”

Advocates say suspensions disproportionately impact black students, students with disabilities and at-risk students.

“Students of color in the District are disciplined, suspended and expelled at rates that far surpass their white peers,” said Nassim Moshiree, policy director of the ACLU of the District of Columbia. “The bill is a critical step toward ending the discriminatory policies that have led to this injustice against D.C. students.”

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