After the MORE2 education task force team spent the last two years working to put an end to suspensions for kindergarten through fifth grade students at Kansas City Public Schools, this week the school board voted unanimously in favor of the change.
“Suspension does not change behavior,” said Tanjanae Butler, a parent and organizer on the MORE2 education task force told KCPS board members. “Suspensions do not serve the student, the parent, the teacher, the classroom, the district, the community. Instead, suspension leads to more suspensions, academic deterioration, disconnection and strained relationships with teachers.”
The MORE2 education task force, working with the American Civil Liberties Union, gathered a great deal of their strategy to bring about the change from a St. Louis group. Parents mobilized with Metropolitan Congregations United, a faith-based organization similar to MORE2 that organizes congregations, organizations and communities to change public policy for the common good. The group held marches and demanded, a stop to suspensions, and in 2016, they were able to get a ban on suspensions in St. Louis Public Schools for pre-k through second grade students.
Heading into the school boards meeting, the MORE2 education task force felt confident they would score a victory. Ahead of the meeting, KCPS’s student support executive had agreed to recommend banning suspensions for students from Kindergarten through the 5th grade except in cases where the student is harming themselves or others.
Pipeline to Prison
MORE2, a faith -based membership organization in Kansas City focused on racial equity, took on the project of ending elementary suspensions as a way to dismantle the school to prison pipeline.
In a report by ProPublica from 2018, Black students in Missouri are 4.4 times more likely to be suspended as White students, and Black students make up 44% of out of school suspensions while they only make up 16% of the school population.
In the same report, while Black students make up 57% of the students at KCPS, they account for 77% of suspensions. White students make up 9% of students in KCPS and account for 9% of suspensions.
As part of a larger school-to-prison pipeline, studies show that students who are suspended or come into contact with law enforcement because of their school behaviors and who don’t have access to counseling services, are more likely to drop out of school and enter the juvenile and criminal justice system.
The new policy, that will take effect in the 2021-2022 school year, will not allow suspensions for kindergarten through fifth grade and reserves out-of-school suspensions for severe situations when a student is harming themselves or others. Students will instead be provided interventions and trauma-informed resources. KCPS teachers and school leaders will also be trained in cultural competency skills.
“We may be the first in this region, maybe in this state that has taken this bold move that we know we should have taken a while ago,” said Dr. Mark Bedell, KCPS superintendent.