The clock is ticking for the Georgia Appleseed Center for Law and Justice. Administrators for the Atlanta-based public interest law non-profit are hoping to wrap up the second phase of its Effective School Discipline: Keeping Kids in Class report by Dec. 15.
Despite the looming deadline pressure, the report’s primary author, Rob Rhodes, took time out Thursday to share phase one of the study results with community stakeholders attending the 2010 Georgia Truancy and Delinquency Prevention Conference. The three-day event hosted by the Truancy Intervention Project (TIP) wrapping up today in Marietta, is the non-profit truancy prevention agency’s first-ever statewide conference. Presenters at the Governor’s Office for Children and Families funded conference have included TIP co-founder and former Fulton County Juvenile Court Chief Judge Glenda Hatchett and Judge Michael Key, president of the National Council of Juvenile and Family Court Judges. Statistics shared at the session led by Rhodes and Executive Director Sharon Hill suggested a correlation between school discipline, truancy and high dropout rates in Georgia.
“High school dropouts are 63 times more likely to be incarcerated than college graduates,” said Rhodes,” Georgia Appleseed’s director of legal affairs. “And 68.4 percent of Georgia prisoners have less than a high school education.”
He also noted that with a rate of 8.81, Georgia schools rank ninth on the nation’s list of out-of-school suspensions (OSS). South Carolina, Florida, West Virginia, Mississippi and North Carolina round out the top five respectively.
“I like to say it’s one of the few lists where Georgia ranks in the top 10," he quipped. “The systems with the highest OSS rates had the lowest graduation rates. Clearly keeping kids out of class can’t be good in terms of helping them to receive a quality education.”
The analysis also found that 71 percent of out-of-school suspensions are administered for offenses considered minor, in comparison to 29 percent deemed major. The numbers shifted for expulsions, where 59 percent were related to minor offenses compared to 41 percent for major ones.
“It was a great session; I’m excited to know that this research is going on,” said Sonja Tobler, a school social worker serving students in the City of Decatur along with DeKalb and Rockdale Counties. “This was very helpful information to me. We are looking at the issue of a lot kids coming into our program with no exit plan; no real plan of how to return to their home school.”
Attendee Paula Freer, a program specialist for a regional education service provider, agreed. “It just reinforces the actual need out there,” said Freer of the Metro West Georgia Learning Resources System. “It’s nice to know that behavior and discipline is becoming a focus. It has been under the radar for so long. I hope that this is part of a push toward strengthening positive behavioral support. In a lot of places it’s beginning to make a real difference.”
Rhodes is now in the midst of the second phase of the report, which includes a more in-depth data analysis and a rigorous interview schedule with representatives from “the Georgia Department of Education, district and school personnel and other stakeholders.” He is also working with Parent Teacher Associations and other community organizations statewide to distribute surveys to parents and students.
The first phase of the report, subtitled, “An Assessment of Georgia’s Public School Disciplinary Policies, Practices and Outcomes,” featured an analysis of discipline reports in grades K-12 in Georgia public schools.
The data compiled by the Georgia Department of Education found that African-American students, special education students and those receiving free or reduced lunches were disciplined more than other students.
- African-American students made up 37.7 percent of the student body in 2008-2009, but received 58.9 percent of the disciplinary actions.
- Special education students, who comprise 11 percent of the student body, received 18.2 percent of the out-of-school suspensions and 23.7 percent of expulsions.
- And the 53 percent of students who were eligible for free or reduced lunches made up 73 percent of the out-of-school suspensions.
“The racial disparities did not surprise me,” noted Tobler. “I was most surprised at the disparities of who got out-of-school suspension and who got in-school-suspension. Those type of disparities tend to create issues within the school setting when you see kids getting different treatment for the same offenses.”
Hill said the organization hopes to meet its December deadline in an effort to make the data available for the state’s next legislative session. The research is also being completed in association with JustGeorgia, a statewide juvenile justice coalition formed in 2006.
Hill also encouraged workshop attendees to spread the word that parents may download a free workbook on the Georgia Appleseed website. When My Child Is Disciplined At School, she said, is a “step-by-step guide for parents.” As for the research, she said her organization is looking at the findings from a variety of perspectives.
“We’re looking at parental involvement and also looking to work with school administrators,” she said. “We’re talking to parents and sharing with them. Parents can be an important factor in a child’s success or failure.”
Got a juvenile justice story idea? Contact JJIE.org staff writer Chandra R. Thomas at firstname.lastname@example.org. Thomas, a former Rosalynn Carter Mental Health Journalism Fellow and Kiplinger Public Affairs Journalism Fellow, is an award-winning multimedia journalist who has worked for Atlanta, Essence and People magazines and Fox 5 News in Atlanta.