The Massachusetts Joint Education Committee reported favorably Tuesday on a House bill to keep students in school. Proponents have been lobbying for the measure for some three years.
For the record, steps relating to in-school disciplines regarding exclusions of students needed redressing, and the favorable action Tuesday is being heralded as a step forward.
I didn't have a clue about any of this until earlier this month when I chatted with Hay Street neighbor Tom Mela of Massachusetts Advocates for Children and learned what a coalition of Massachusetts lawyers and advocates from legal aid and public interest agencies did. They've been deeply involved for three years with problems relating to a steady rise of student exclusions from public schools.
That conversation led me to 40 pages of reference materials and a heightened appreciation for what has become a deteriorating educational reality — the increase of student exclusions from schools for 10 days or more.
According to a summary of the Department of Elementary and Secondary Education, exclusions in Massachusetts schools have increased dramatically.
There were 1,949 incidents resulting in exclusion of 10 days or more during the 2002-2003 school year and 3,375 incidents of 10 days or more in the 2008-2009 school year.
The summary also reports that 50 percent of the exclusions were of special needs students, 17 percent were African-American students (eight percent of the student population) and 25 percent were exclusions of Hispanic students (14 percent of the student population).
(For those tracking the related bills, the Joint Education Committee's action on Tuesday will result in a new number designation to proceed from the original House Bill H.178 with the addition of language taken from H. 177 as it relates to school discipline data and significant numbers of school exclusions.)
I couldn't help comparing the now of "exclusions" with the realities of my own distant past.
Different time, different culture.
I was told, straight off by my father, that I would do as told by my teachers and not to turn to him for redress. We faced the realties of a time when there were fewer shades of gray regarding cause and effect. Trying to do that today is far more complex, and the legislation in process necessarily specifies legal rights and responsibilities.
We were of many origins mostly struggling for a foothold. We accepted discipline as a necessity to "get ahead."
School teachers had control that wasn't challenged. Some students had to drop out of school early to help support their families. Graduation from high school was a goal rarely reached during my parents' generation. We did better with ours, but college was not for most of us until the GI Bill made the difference.
What needs there were for "exclusions" in the grades or high school were sparse, and more often than not, what serious problems there were would be dealt with decisively at home.
These are different times for any number of reasons, and they call for more than a sharing of caring. The redraft of House Bill 178 specifies these. They are designed to engage and protect the related interests of those to be taught and those who teach, and the legal responsibilities and rights are explicit. Presumably, the redraft will continue that focus.
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Bill Plante is former executive editor of Essex County Newspapers. His email address is firstname.lastname@example.org.