From classroom trends to school board decisions, Class Act will keep you updated on all the school issues followed by the Star Tribune’s education reporters. Contributors include Steve Brandt, who covers Minneapolis; Kim McGuire, who covers the west metro; Erin Adler, who covers the south metro; Anthony Lonetree and Libor Jany, who cover St. Paul and the east metro, and Paul Levy and Shannon Prather, who cover the north metro.

Twin Cities religious leaders call for an end to mass student suspensions

Posted by: Kim McGuire Updated: March 7, 2014 - 4:38 PM

A coalition of religious leaders, parents and teachers on Thursday called for Minnesota schools to pass a moratorium on suspensions, citing the fact that students of color are disciplined much more frequently than white students.

Members of ISAIAH said they want to end the "school to prison pipeline" that occurs when students of color are systematically suspended or expelled.

Nekima Levy Pounds, a professor at the University of St. Thomas School of Law, cited statistics that showed 46,609 students were suspended, expelled or excluded during the 2011-2012 school year in Minnesota. Students of color accounted for 60 percent of all disciplinary action that school year.

"These statistics should break our hearts, and compel us all - especially in the faith community - to act in a transformative way," she said at press conference at the state Capitol.

In addition to calling on a moratorium on suspensions, ISAIAH members are also asking schools to remove police from school discipline procedures.

ISAIAH's call for action follows recent federal push for schools to ease up on suspensions.

In January, the U.S. Department of Education issued guidelines urging districts to turn to law enforcement agencies as means of last resort when dealing with disruptive students. Citing the rise in "zero tolerance" policies, U.S. Secretary Arne Duncan has said too many minority students were losing valuable class time as a result of harsh disciplinary actions.

The suspension rates in both Minneapolis and St. Paul have declined in recent years as both districts have overhauled their discipline policies.

For example, St. Paul in 2012 eliminated "continual willful disobedience" from a list of suspendable violations and offered financial incentives to reduce their suspension numbers.

In Minneapolis, school leaders recently changed their disciplinary policy to emphasize reinforcing behavioral standards and using restorative justice practices.

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