Who Do They Think They're Foolin'?

Dear Dr. Brandon,
I regret to inform you that data on the Virginia Department of Education (VDOE) website, falsely claim that there has been only one expulsion from Richmond Public Schools from 2004 to 2008.

Since one of your duties as Superintendent, according to the Code of Virginia, is to "ensure that an accurate record of all receipts and disbursements of school funds and all statistical information which may be required by the State Board is kept," it behooves you to correct this false information as soon as possible.

As a member of the Richmond Public School Board for six years and as the former co-chair of the Student Disciplinary Committee, I know beyond a shadow of doubt that RPS has expelled far more than "one" student during that time. In fact, a cursory examination of the minutes of the Student Disciplinary Committee Meetings -- where all students, parents and legal guardians have a right to appeal an expulsion -- reveals that from 2004-2008, the RPS School Board and administration expelled at least 100 students.

Mind you, this number does not even begin to speak to the total number of expulsions, only to those which were appealed to the School Board's Disciplinary Committee. Nor does it address the 18,722 short-term (less than 10 days) suspensions for 2007-2008. We have Chris Dovi of Style Weekly and John Butcher of The Cranky Taxpayer to thank for some eye-popping raw data and charts that show a dramatic increase in the number of RPS suspensions from 2002/03 through 2006/07 for elementary through high school.

As troubling as it is that RPS submitted false expulsion data to VDOE, it strains credulity and credibility when one notes that our district continues to write up more incidents of discipline and reports of bad behavior than any other district in the Commonwealth:

2004-2005 --22, 487
2005-2006 -- 21,280
2006-2007 -- 32,922
2007-2008 -- 29, 571

When I think about the time it takes away from instruction for our teachers, students and administrators to write up thousands of discipline reports, I can't help but wonder why we continue to pursue zero-tolerance discipline policies. It is obvious that the policies have little to no effect on improving behavior or improving the quality of education in our schools.

Other districts have addressed this challenge and have begun to keep their students in school and off the streets. Baltimore, Boston, Chicago have all implemented programs that focus on positive behavior and creative conflict resolution. It is time that we do so as well. We can't keep paying the price for not doing so.