On Tuesday, October 4, 2011, Advocates for Justice and Education (AJE) hosted a community forum on discipline in charter schools.

The event was held at AJE’s Georgia Avenue office, and was well attended by a cross-section of the community, including charter school staff, parents, students, and education reform advocates.

The forum began with a panel discussion. Susan Inman, staff attorney at AJE, provided a background on school discipline and the history of charter schools. Richard Pohlman, director of policy for E.L. Haynes Public Charter School, spoke about how charter schools operate in the District of Columbia under current law. Barbara Paz Cornejo (a former charter school teacher), Nataly DelValle (a student at Maya Angelou Public Charter School), and Lakeisha Brown (a parent of a student formerly at Cesar Chavez Public Charter School, currently at Richard T. Wright Public Charter School), each spoke about their personal encounters with discipline in the charter school environment.

The forum then opened up for a group discussion about best practices.  Participants shared their stories, and voiced concerns about safety, fairness and consistency.  The group discussed the right to education in the context of school choice.  Members of the community forum identified best practices that should be part of each charter school’s disciplinary scheme, including: training in classroom management for all teachers; full integration of disability rights protections within the disciplinary structure; due process in the form of written notice, a hearing and an impartial hearing officer; increased emphasis on building relationships with students and engaging families in the process; pro-social skills embedded into the school’s curriculum; student ownership over school rules and procedures; incorporation of restorative justice concepts; and stronger connections to mentoring programs and other community resources.

As a follow up to this forum, AJE will be sending an open letter to the Office of the State Superintendent of Education to share the community’s concerns and priorities, and encourage increased regulation and oversight of discipline in charter schools.

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