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3 St. Louis County districts pledge to ban suspensions in early grades

Normandy Superintendent Charles Pearson agreed to a list of principles to reduce suspensions on Saturday, May 23, 2015.
File photo | Camille Phillips | St. Louis Public Radio
Normandy Superintendent Charles Pearson agreed to a list of principles to reduce suspensions on Saturday, May 23, 2015 during a student-led event organized by MCU.

Updated Nov. 14 9:45 a.m. with results of the assembly — By the 2018-2019 school year at least four school districts in the St. Louis area could have policies banning out of school suspensions for their youngest students.

At a regional assembly on suspensions Sunday evening, the Maplewood Richmond Heights School District pledged to ban out of school suspensions for pre-K through 3rd grade next school year. Ladue and Normandy committed to doing the same the following year. St. Louis Public Schools enacted their own ban this school year.

The event Sunday was organized by Metropolitan Congregations United, Forward Through Ferguson and a number of other social justice groups. Eliminating racial disparities in school discipline was a recommendation of the Ferguson Commission and has been a focus for MCU for at least two years.

Organizers said the idea was for school leaders to come together and publicly commit to reducing suspensions while they explore alternatives discipline polices or pledge to ban suspensions in pre-K through 3rd grade within the next two school years.

“The first step is to actually get districts on board,” said Brittini Gray, lead organizer with MCU, before the assembly. “So this will be a time to bring the community together to kind of hear where districts are in terms of making commitments publicly.”

Julia Brucks with Ready by 21 helped Gray plan the assembly. She said they wanted to have a joint assembly so they can talk about policy change on a regional level.

“I believe we are as fragmented as we want to be. And so it’s exciting to see our education leaders really come together and say we can address this together,” said Brucks.

Gray said MCU and its partners have had conversations with superintendents or assistant superintendents of almost every school district in St. Louis County and St. Charles County about their discipline policies. 

Representatives from 20 school districts attended the assembly, which was open to the public. In addition to the commitments made by Maplewood Richmond Heights, Normandy and Ladue to ban suspensions, 17 other districts pledged to reduce suspensions in their early grades while exploring alternatives: Affton, Bayless, Brentwood, Clayton, Ferguson-Florissant, Hancock Place, Hazelwood, Jennings, Kirkwood, Orchard Farm, Pattonville, Riteneor, Special School District, St. Charles City, University City, Webster Groves and Wentzville.

“One of our core reasons for tackling this issue is to deal with the racial disparities that exist. And that’s true across the region. It’s not as if St. Louis City or Normandy or other north county schools are the only place where this is happening,” said Gray. “This is a regional and quite honestly a statewide issue. And so we have to be able to take that holistic approach to dismantling the ways that structures create inequitable outcomes, particularly for black and brown children.”

The assembly is planned as a celebration of districts committing to make a change. But Gray and Brucks said there will be much more work in the months ahead to help districts find the resources to choose alternative methods.

“We’re really excited to have superintendents and assistant superintendents really help shape these next steps in figuring out what do they need in order to be successful to implement this change,” said Brucks.

St. Louis Public Radio's We Live Here reported last year that black students in the region were much more likely than white students to be suspended

“There isn’t one district that wants to suspend a 5 year old. This is a really complicated issue that can’t be solved overnight, that can’t be solved with one quick policy change,” Brucks added. “We’re in this for the long haul and it’s going to require the funding community to come together, practitioners coming together to say how are we already supporting schools. What’s working, what’s not working and how can we work together to close this gap.”

Follow Camille on Twitter @cmpcamille