When it comes to accessing a quality education, not all students are treated equally.

“It makes me worried that so many kids with disabilities are expelled from school,” said Eliza Diaz. Her son, who is disabled, was constantly being written up for minor infractions when he was a third grader at a public charter school in Avondale, Arizona. She felt broken, she said, after what she described as miserable experiences trying to advocate for her son against school administrators.

Many parents have contacted the ACLU of Arizona with alarming stories of how public schools, particularly charter schools, use discriminatory practices to push some students out of school. To challenge these unjust practices, the ACLU of Arizona just launched #Demand2Learn, an educational, outreach, and advocacy campaign focused on eliminating schools’ exclusionary practices.

Lacking resources and training, some schools have adopted detrimental practices that push students out of school or prevent them from enrolling in the first place. These tactics include:

  • Discouraging or precluding the enrollment of students with disciplinary records or poor academic achievement;
  • Asking students to withdraw voluntarily following insignificant offenses or poor performance;
  • Harsh disciplinary policies such as “zero tolerance,” which lead to unnecessary suspensions and expulsions; and
  • Referring students to law enforcement for minor infractions like dress code violations and behavioral transgressions, such as defiance and classroom disturbance.

Not only have these extreme policies proven harmful to children, they also disproportionately affect children of color, English language learners, and students with disabilities.

The ACLU of Arizona analyzed the most recent discipline data available, from 2013-2014, and issued a fact sheet with some of the startling findings:

  • African American students in charter high schools are eight times more likely than their white peers to receive out-of-school suspensions.
  • Latino students in charter high schools are six times more likely than their white peers to receive out-of-school suspensions.
  • In some schools close to tribal communities, Native Americans students are up to 10 times more likely than their white peers to be suspended.
  • Students with disabilities in elementary and middle schools are twice as likely as students without disabilities to receive in-school suspensions.

The long-term effects on the people these numbers represent can be devastating. Student suspensions and expulsions lead to a greater likelihood of dropping out, which in turn leads to a greater chance of involvement with the juvenile justice system.

Moreover, according to research compiled by the Arizona Mayor’s Education Roundtable, each child who drops out in Arizona produces $421,280 in economic losses over his or her lifetime due to decreased earning and increased government expenses, such as healthcare and crime-related costs. Students who drop out cost Arizona $7.6 billion over their lifetime.

Every student should have fair and equal access to public education, and our #Demand2Learn campaign aims to make that a reality in Maricopa County, Arizona.

The campaign will serve as a resource for families by providing them with opportunities to advocate for reforms that will help children stay in school. Parents like Eliza are invited to attend campaign workshops and use campaign toolkits that are intended to help parents become better advocates for their students.

We’re also partnering with groups representative of the communities most impacted by the disproportionality in school discipline, including State of Black Arizona, the Arizona Latino School Board Association, Valle del Sol, Black Mother’s Forum, Chicanos por la Causa, and Morning Star. With these groups, we hope to identify and advocate for systemic changes, like improved data collection and transparency about discipline actions, that will improve schools’ retention rates.

In addition, #Demand2Learn is collaborating with school leaders to develop model schools that are committed to increasing student retention by 2020. Phoenix Union High School District, one of the nation’s largest high school districts, has led the way by joining the campaign. Others that have stepped up include Fowler Elementary School District, Pendergast Elementary School District, Balsz Elementary School District, Phoenix Collegiate Academy, Academia del Pueblo, Arizona School for the Arts, and Vista College Prep.

All students have the right to a public education, and schools should not be able to choose their students. School choice means families choose schools, not the other way around. We want anyone who cares about public education in Arizona to help with our work. For more information, please contact us at demand2learn@acluaz.org or visit www.demand2learnaz.org.

Click here to view data analyzed for the #Demand2Learn campaign

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