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SEEK Testimony to Committee on Judiciary

April 15, 2021

on H.B. 6667

March 31, 2021

Delivered by Andrew A. Feinstein, Legislative Chair

Chairs Winfield and Stafstrom, Ranking Members Kissel and Fishbein, Members of the Committee,

Special Education Equity for Kids in Connecticut (SEEK) is a statewide organization of parents, providers, attorneys, and advocates working for high-quality education and civil rights for students with disabilities. We appreciate the opportunity to appear before you today on H.B. 6667. I am here to speak in favor of Section 11.

SEEK is opposed to all forms of exclusionary discipline: out-of-school suspensions, expulsions, and school-based arrests for anything other than major felonies. Such exclusionary discipline is not educationally sound: it prevents the subject student from learning any academics. It is not behaviorally sound: there is no evidence showing that excluded students "learn their lesson" and mend their misbehavior. It is not sound school management: it shows misbehaving students that the school is powerless to deal with them and, all too often, they learn that the juvenile justice system is impotent.

Exclusionary discipline tells the alienated student, the student who feels like he or she does not belong, that he or she does not belong. It usually provides no punishment for the student but exacts a heavy toll of the parent or guardian. It identifies aberrant behavior and makes it worse.

Exclusionary discipline has one thing going for it. One, it is cheap.

But it is also tremendously discriminatory in application: both racially and against students with disabilities. As Commissioner Cardona reported to the State Board of Education in February, "While one out of 34 white students received at least one suspension, one out of 10 Black/African American students and one out of 14 Hispanic/Latino students experienced the same sanction." Or as the recent UCLA report found, "Due to out-of-school suspensions, across all grade levels nationally, students without disabilities lost 19 days per 100 students enrolled while students with disabilities (IDEA) lost 41 days per 100 students enrolled." And "Nationally, among secondary students with disabilities (IDEA), 24% of Black students, 15% of Native American students, and 11% of White students were suspended out of school at least once in 2017-18."

There are undoubtedly students who, because of their behavior, cannot remain in the regular classroom. For the safety and learning of other students, for their own safety, and often for the safety of the teacher, these students need to be removed from the classroom. They need to be placed in a therapeutic setting, with challenging academics, strong therapeutic intervention, physical activity and mentoring. Certainly, they need to be evaluated for special education, because serious classroom behavior is the very definition of an emotional dysregulation. They need to be placed in a therapeutic setting with goals and objectives, both academic and behavioral. As soon as they start meeting their individualized behavioral goals, they need to be reintegrated into the classroom. The current one-year time limit for expulsion is irrational. More than that, it an embossed invitation to drop out. It is the welcome mat for the school to prison pipeline.

This therapeutic setting is not a radical idea. Virtually all expelled students need to be provided with public education under current law. Indeed, the State Department of Education published guidance entitled, "Alternative Educational Opportunities for Students Who Have Been Expelled: Best Practice Guidelines for Program Implementation" in August 2018. The setting described in this guidance is a broad template for the type of therapeutic setting needed.

Section 11 of H.B. 6667 sets up a working group to plan for the elimination of out-of-school suspension and expulsion for all students. Currently, expulsion is not an option for students in grade 2 and below, except for a narrow and wholly unwarranted exception. SEEK would be proud to serve on such a working group.

It is time for us to stop telling behaviorally challenged students that they are unwanted, shunned, exiled. It is time for us to tell them that we love them, that we want to help them, and that we want them to be part of society. Section 11 of H.B. 6667 starts that process.