At a public roundtable on Dec. 8, Ward 8 Councilmember Marion Barry introduced a bill, the Suspension Reform Act, developed with Ward 5 Councilmember Harry “Tommy” h omas Jr. in response to Barry’s ﬁ ndings upon investigating suspension policy and actions at Hart Middle School located on Mississippi Avenue SE. A summary of the bill calls for the establishment of uniform standards for suspension for each public and charter school in DC. h e bill, if passed, would require DCPS Chancellor Michelle Rhee to adopt a standard for suspension which Barry and h omas have outlined in the bill.
Some of the standards outlined include:
• Immediate suspension shall be authorized in cases where a student’s behavior poses a substantial threat of bodily harm to himself or others, and the parent, legal guardian or other responsible adult shall be notiﬁ ed by telephone and ordered to pick the student up from school, or the appropriate District agency may take the student into custody;
• If the parent, legal guardian or other responsible adult cannot be reached, the student shall be held at school until the end of the day, and the parent, legal guardian or other responsible adult shall be notiﬁ ed orally by telephone and in writing of the reason for the suspension, the educational services that have been put into place for the student and a designated time and place for a conference; and
• In such case, a conference shall be held within the ﬁ rst 48 hours of the suspension to determine whether the suspension should stand or whether alternative disciplinary actions should be taken against the student.
Local residents and the online community of bloggers who have been following Hart Middle School’s recent turmoil involving a terminated principal and an upswing in violence, have diﬀ ering opinions regarding the proposed bill.
Barry asserts that the bill was created based on his visit to Hart at the beginning of the 2008-2009 school year. On visit, he spoke with one of the three assistant principals there and learned that approximately 70 students had been suspended in the month of September alone, and in some of the cases, parents had not been notiﬁed immediately at the time of suspension.
One popular blogger, a Michelle Rhee supporter, known online as DC Teacher Chic (http://dcteacherchic.blogspot.com/) believes that parental consent is a nonissue. Outraged at the introduction of the new bill, she dismisses the assumptions made that current suspension rates are based on frivolous reasons.
“At Nalle, where I taught, and where things were out of control,” DC Teacher Chic writes, “kids were not suspended for trivial oﬀenses. They were suspended for cussing out the principal, getting in ﬁghts that required multiple adults to break up, destruction of school property, etc. I’m sure it is similar at Hart. If kids
were suspended for minor oﬀenses, you’d have half the kids gone.”