The House of Representatives has passed legislation introduced by Rep. Grace Diaz (D-Dist. 11, Providence) that seeks to curtail racial disparities in school discipline.
The bill (2016-H 7056) would direct all school superintendents to review discipline data for their school districts, to decide whether there is an unequal impact on students based on race, ethnicity, or disability status, and to respond to any disparity.
“While we have made great strides in stamping out racial bias in our schools, we still need to be mindful of the ways racism and discrimination against the disabled can still take root in our educational system” said Representative Diaz. “If we analyze the data regarding school discipline and see its impact on race, we’ll have a better understanding of the source of the problem so we can do something about it.”
Under the legislation, every school district would submit a report to the Council on Elementary and Secondary Education describing any action taken on the disparity.
Also, student suspensions would not be served out of school unless the student's conduct meets certain standards or the student represents a demonstrable threat to students, teachers or administrators.
“It is imperative that we make school discipline a core component of school and district accountability,” said Representative Diaz. “If there are disparities, whether they’re intentional or incidental, we have to take steps to even the playing field.”
This is the latest measure backed by Representative Diaz to address racial disparity in school discipline. In 2012, she sponsored legislation prohibiting schools from disciplining students with out-of-school suspensions for attendance infractions, a practice that disproportionately targeted minorities. The ACLU pointed to that legislation as one of the reasons nearly 1,700 fewer students were suspended during the 2012-2013 school year than in 2011-2012.
The bill, which is cosponsored by Representatives John J. Lombardi (D-Dist. 8, Providence), Joseph S. Almeida (D-Dist. 12, Providence), Scott A. Slater (D-Dist. 10, Providence) and Gregg Amore (D-Dist. 65, East Providence), now heads to the Senate, where similar legislation (2016-S 2168) has been introduced by Sen. Juan M. Pichardo (D-Dist. 2, Providence).