Orange text on blue background reads: Education Blog. Illustrations of young people gathered are below. On a blackboard, text in chalk reads: School Exclusion and there is a red handprint behind the text.

Meeting the Moment: We CAN End School Exclusion

One of the qualities that makes TeamChild who we are is our commitment to practice brand new areas of the law, issues that have never been legally navigated before, in response to what our youth clients are facing and what they need to succeed. This need to be innovative to help young people access opportunity and succeed has been most profoundly true in our education rights work since 2020.

We know that the pandemic exacerbated pre-existing inequities in education but it also created new education rights challenges for Black, Indigenous and Latino youth and youth with disabilities in Washington’s schools: issues that have not been litigated and legal theories that have not been tested. TeamChild has been working with young people to overcome some of these new barriers. For example, although overall school suspensions are lower than previous years, we have observed through the casework that youth of color and students with disabilities are frequently being diverted to online school. This is often completely inappropriate for their situation. Many young people don’t have an adult at home during the day who can monitor and support their learning, they have a disability that would prevent them from being successful, or the young person simply needs the community and connection that they cannot get through online school. Yet, teachers and administrators are using this as a tool to navigate youth out of classrooms, same as they have done in the past with forms of discipline such as isolation, suspension, and expulsion.

TeamChild’s vision for our schools is an end to exclusion and cycles of harm perpetuated onto students of color and students with disabilities. When we talk about the school to prison pipeline, it is often easy to miss that the pipeline is not just moving students out of schools and into prison: it is the ways in which schools themselves operate on a continuum of carceral behaviors that in turn pushes students out, and into court and eventually incarceration. Today, in Washington state, schools are permitted to put children in isolation cells that are windowless and locked – akin to prison cells. Staff put children in handcuffs or use forms of chemical restraint to keep youth sedated without their consent or the consent of their parents. (Learn more in this report.) In addition, schools often use forms of discipline (such as suspension, expulsion, or moves to online school) that disproportionately exclude youth with disabilities and youth of color. These are all strategies that harm youth and keep them away from the environment they belong in: their local school, where they can be connected to resources, their friends, and with the educational opportunities that will have a major impact on their ability to thrive in life.

None of our public institutions should be exclusionary: certainly not towards children and young people whose access to education is a predeterminant of so many other areas of well-being and success. By learning quickly about these new cases, organizing with youth and community, and proposing systemic solutions at the policy level, TeamChild is positioned to offer a different way forward. What we want to see instead, and what our work is striving towards, is a world where our community-based local school buildings have the ability to welcome all young people – including and especially our client base who are youth of color and students with disabilities who continue to be regularly locked out of schools or directly and irreparably harmed in school environments.

We invite you to join us in the effort to end school exclusion, and stay connected with this work!

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