The following is a transcript (starting at 2:28:45 in the video available here) from the budget oversight hearing of the public charter school board on April 11, before the education committee of the city council. In it, committee chair David Grosso asks charter board executive director Scott Pearson about illegal out of school suspensions. Besides the eye-popping stats cited by Grosso, what makes this exchange all the more remarkable is the apparent comfort of a DC public education agency leader admitting that DC law is being flouted by the agency he oversees–all the while our office of the state superintendent of education (OSSE) and DCPS are being investigated by the FBI for, well, flouting the law.
Grosso: It is currently against the law . . . to subject a student to out of school suspension for missing school or for being tardy. Yet we had over 300 instances [390, to be precise, per page 52 of OSSE’s discipline report] of these types of suspensions last school year. When I asked you about this in the performance oversight hearing in February, you said that you had not really looked at it and that was fair, so I’m just wondering will you be doing something for the remainder of the school year and for FY19 different in regards to the implementation of this law?
Pearson: I would need to talk with my board about exactly what we’ll do. What we do now is collect the data and report it, but we do not enforce the law.
Grosso: Is it one of your compliance checks, though? Because the reality is that this is part of the law. You can’t right now suspend a student I believe out of school for missing school or for being late to school. Like I said, there were 300 instances of this last year. Forget about it being just a discipline issue. They would have to comply with the law, and you guys have oversight of that, right?
Pearson: We do. And what the law says is that we do have oversight with compliance with the law. But in this case we also believe that the law conflicts with the guarantee of exclusive control over school operations, and so this is not a law that we are enforcing.
Grosso: That’s good to know. Are you aware of that you had a school last year that issued more out of school suspensions than it did numbers of students? [That is Democracy Prep, with 782 out of school suspensions in SY16-17 and 656 students in the same school year, per OSSE audited enrollment data.] So basically it had more out of school suspensions than there were students in the school. Are you aware of that? Does that give you pause?
Pearson: We review the school discipline data every month, and I will be honest with you that we see numbers that do give us pause. We’re also proud of the fact that the number of out of school suspensions has declined every year that we’ve been working on this and the outlier schools . . . has gone down every year.