Earlier this month, SC Appleseed received the great news that we were successful in our efforts to ensure that Jasper County School District (JCSD) would follow the law by serving all students in its schools. In January, we filed an administrative complaint with the SC Department of Education against JCSD. We have been working with families in this district for over a year, and filed the complaint on behalf of two individual students who’d been illegally removed from the educational process. We also alleged that there were many other students like them whose needs were going unmet, and after a site review of a number of other students’ records, the SDE agreed and has now ordered the district to provide compensatory education to these two students as well as to all other students with disabilities who were removed from school instead of receiving needed services in school. The district must also undergo monitoring of their procedures and have a number of employees retrained on discipline and special education laws.
We filed a similar complaint against the Beaufort County School District in 2012 and also succeeded in forcing that district to reconsider how it was treating students with disabilities. There, too, the SDE found a pattern of denying students with disabilities required services in favor of suspensions and expulsions.
Unfortunately for other kids around the state, these same legal violations are likely present in many other school districts. Far too often schools respond to behavioral issues with harsh exclusionary punishment like suspension or expulsion, or worse, by charging students with a crime. Many students who find themselves in this situation have some disabling condition, some traumatic incident, or just typical growing pains of youth that led to the misbehavior. But instead of working with the student to correct the problem, find reasons for the behavior, and address the need in the classroom, schools around are state are summarily pushing students out of school and washing their hands of them. As a result, our graduation rates are too low, our detention centers and prisons are too full, and our earning potential as a state is drastically reduced from what it could be if more students could be kept in school on track to graduation.
There are common-sense approaches that districts can take to address student needs. One research-based method, Positive Behavior Interventions and Supports (PBIS), is gaining momentum among educators as a way to improve overall school climate as well as academic performance while keeping children in the classroom. PBIS is in place in some schools in JCSD, but every school needs to be using its principles with every student every day.
This Jasper decision is an important victory, not just for these students but others who are yet to start school. Almost every child starts their education happy and excited about all the promise the world holds for them. But along the way, too many of our students, particularly those facing challenges in learning, are pushed aside and eventually out of the classroom. We must all take responsibility for these students and for holding schools to their responsibility to teach every student, to commit our very best resources to reaching students, and to stopping the school to prison pipeline in our state. SC Appleseed is committed to this most important cause. Will you join us?