Disproportionate suspensions of students of color addressed in Virginia

WASHINGTON — Black girls and other girls of color are more likely to be suspended from school than their white peers in Virginia, according to the National Women’s Law Center. It’s a nationwide trend, and there’s a move in the commonwealth to tackle those disparities in discipline.

What’s been called “school pushout” can sometimes happen for arguably vague reasons, such as “talking back” or “having an attitude.” A girl’s dress can also play a role in exclusions from class.

“Not necessarily for incidents of violence, or disobedience, or any of those things, but oftentimes, something as simple as a head wrap,” said state Del. Jennifer Carroll Foy, who represents part of Prince William and Stafford counties.

Carroll Foy and other advocates hosted a forum in Richmond, Virginia, on Saturday to discuss how bias in school discipline impacts the access to equal education for students of color, who are disproportionately affected by harsher punishments compared to their white peers.

Change is in the works in Virginia. The Virginia Department of Education is scheduled to review a major revision to their student code of conduct on Thursday. The Model Guidance for Positive and Preventive Code of Student Conduct Policy and Alternatives to Suspension is meant to establish framework for alternatives to short and long-term suspensions.

“We’ve taken a great deal of time to develop those guidelines, and they really do focus on less punitive responses to discipline infractions, and increased focus on the supports that students need in order to be successful in the classroom and, at the same time, frames the entire context of school discipline policies and codes of conduct with an equity lens,” said Leah Walker, the Virginia Department of Education director of equity and community engagement, at the forum.

Walker said it’s a bold move for Virginia “that our guidance document that will go out to all of the school divisions across the state begin with an equity framework.”

Carroll Foy streamed Saturday’s forum on her Facebook page, available to view in the video below.

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