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Norfolk group fights suspension numbers in public schools

Local group Virginia Organizing said it wants the Norfolk School Board to change suspension policies.

NORFOLK, Va. — A group of people has decided to protest the Norfolk School Board for what they said are unfair suspension policies.

The group is called Virginia Organizing, and they believe that African American children and students with disabilities are unfairly treated in the classroom. Mike Pain joined the group for the protest and he said the statistics are staggering.

"We go through data and just look at the numbers, crunch them and break them down and that's how we came to where we're at today,” said Pain. The non-profit group is focused on school suspension numbers and keeping kids in class instead of suspended at home.

"Black children are four times more likely to be suspended than white children, and students with special needs are two times more likely to be suspended than kids without disabilities," said Pain.

Pain and the group said after the protest, they would be attending the Norfolk School Board meeting to tell members what change they want to see happen.

"We can't keep doing the same thing and expecting a different result. So, we have to come up with something different and make a new game plan," said Pain.

Norfolk Public Schools released the following statement:

Norfolk Public Schools (NPS) maintains the Standards of Student Conduct as required by Section 22.1-279.6 of the Code of Virginia. These standards are reviewed and revised annually based on General Assembly action, revisions to the model guidelines promulgated by the Virginia Department of Education (VDOE), and assessment of local needs. These standards are annually distributed to every student enrolled in Norfolk Public Schools and outlines expectations for students’ behavior and conduct, along with the range of sanctions possible, should violations occur.

It is our responsibility to establish a caring school climate and safe environment at each of our schools and throughout the school district. We work very closely with administrators, teachers, students, parents and the community to support success in a positive school climate. NPS continues to implement practices that serve as alternatives to suspension such as Positive Behavioral Interventions and Supports (PBIS), in school suspension and detention. The district has undertaken design and piloting of restorative practices with a goal of fostering positive school relationships and examining the root causes of actions that result in a violation of the Standards of Student Conduct.

NPS has, through the School Board’s Accountability Plan, identified the ongoing monitoring of student suspension data in an effort to align the appropriate resources to support positive school climates. This monitoring resulted in the restoration of positions to support in-school suspension in the last two budgets, rather than out of school suspension, where appropriate. These positions had been eliminated in prior years during and following the Great Recession. NPS will continue to expand its focus, policies and practices to afford every student a high-quality education in a caring and safe school environment.

NPS has also undertaken efforts to improve the educational experiences and achievement outcomes for our students with disabilities. Special education teachers participate in high-quality professional development, alongside general education teachers, bringing the best instructional practices to our students and classrooms. NPS has committed to an external review of our special education programs and services in the coming months. Also, NPS has realigned resources and supports again next year in grades 6, 7 and 9, through the CEIS requirements, as a means of reducing suspensions through building stronger relationships with students. The Department of Learning Supports completed its Federal Program Monitoring through VDOE during the 2017-18 school year.

We look forward to continuing to partner with administrators, teachers, students, families and the community as the NPS Redesign and Theory of Action continue to foster outstanding results for every student, in every classroom, in every school, every day!