At MnEEP, it’s important that we continuously work to address the racial disparities in Minnesota’s school discipline practices. In 2013, we published an eye-opening policy brief on school suspensions, which led to the first school moratorium on the use of such practices in Minneapolis Schools. Our most recent report, “Excluded: How Race Plays a Role in Exclusionary Practices in Minnesota Schools,” details the connection between special education, race, and discipline practices, and highlights policy recommendations for reducing the serious disparities that continue to negatively impact students of color and American Indian students.
But more work—from our communities, our leaders, and our citizens—needs to be done.
As Minnesotans consider candidates for state office this fall, it’s important that all candidates understand how deep discipline disparities impact students of color and American Indian students, and that they are prepared as elected officials to make changes that support these students for success in our classrooms, and in the future.
Here are some important insights and questions to ask your candidates about how they will work to support race equity in education.
First, it is vital to know that school suspensions and expulsions in Minnesota disproportionally affects students who are people of color or Indigenous people (POCI). While these students make up 31 percent of our state’s student population, they nevertheless receive 66 percent of these exclusionary disciplinary practices.
The Minnesota Department of Human Rights (MnDHR) looked at statewide discipline incidents reporting data for the 2015-16 school year to learn that:
- American-Indian students were ten times more likely to be suspended or expelled than white peers.
- African–American students were eight times more likely to be suspended or expelled than white peers.
- Students of color were twice more likely to be suspended or expelled than white peers.
Researchers have argued that since student punishment varies widely by race, and since exclusionary forms of school punishment – such as suspension -remove students from the learning environment (potentially impeding their academic progress), that achievement differences between POCI students and white students can partially be explained by school suspensions. [See: ‘The Punishment Gap –School Suspension and Racial Disparities in Achievement”]
Second, this means that as people vie for state governor and legislator, candidates should address the use of punishment-based student discipline practices by our public schools to both ensure that;
- students’ civil rights in education are not violated (MN Statutes 363A.13), and,
- efforts to close gaps and achieve educational excellence in our state are not being prevented by such practices.
Third, now that the MDHR has reached settlement agreements with over three dozen school districts and charter schools to reduce disparities in suspensions and expulsions for POCI students, and to work collaboratively to implement alternatives to exclusionary practices, candidates for election this fall should address their commitment to continuing with the MDHR agreements.
Fourth, candidates should be asked to address strategies offered by teachers – like the St Paul Federation of Teachers – community advocates, and researchers, that they would support to undo the harm of exclusionary school discipline practices. These can include:
- Professional development, training and support for educators on cultural competency, conflict resolution and community building.
- Use of restorative practices for building student skills and empowerment processes for both teachers and students
- Social and mental health services to address student needs.
MnEEP believes that emphasizing punishment and the exclusionary practices used by schools to discipline students should end and be replaced with developing positive behaviors based on relationships and mutual accountability for creating empowering learning environments.
Elections are times for the people to pause and consider policies and practices that align with our values and vision. Ask our candidates for office this year, what their vision is for ending the racial disparities that POCI students face with school discipline practices.