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School discipline: Ringing a bell for reform

JUDITH KAYE | 3/22/2012, 2:13 p.m.

The summit was organized around presentations, breakout groups and 48 individual tables--with one of each of the U.S. jurisdictions being represented--for discussion about what to do next. At each table were state representatives, students from every New York City law school to record the discussions and packets of data on that jurisdiction's school discipline statistics.

As I look back on the event, it's hard for me to say what was most exciting about the summit. Was it that so many people came from every part of the United States to address what they recognize as a major problem today? Was it the content and high quality of the presentations? Surely both.

Was it the enthusiastic participation of so many wonderful law students--the next generation of my profession--giving of their time to address what they too see as a daunting issue? Absolutely.

But in the end, one reflection stands out above all others. It was the buzz at each table as a packed room of judges and educators--a rare face-to-face combination--studied their own state's school disciplinary data, exchanged their ideas in lively dialogue and made plans to continue their unprecedented conversations. For it is clear to me that, in the ABCs of solutions to this daunting problem, the accent clearly is on the C: collaboration.

There is no single solution. We need a broad array of collaborations to assure that problems are spotted early and dealt with appropriately. Suspension, expulsion and arrest have to be a last--not a first--response to student misbehavior.

Several attendees referred to this as a "landmark" conference. I see it that way too. It brought together people who are eager to collaborate on what needs to be done in their own schools and communities and will press us to restore the American dream.