My story is not unique. In fact, staff, administrators, district leaders, and school board members across 17 schools and five districts have heard it over the last 12 years. So I am speaking out for my son and many others. As hearings begin at the Capitol, I’m calling on Minnesota policymakers to finally make our children a priority and put an end to backward discipline practices that hurt our most underserved students and create school climates where students are pushed out before they are ever heard or helped.
In Minnesota, black students are eight times more likely to be suspended than white students according to the department of human rights. And nearly half of all students with suspensions and expulsions in the state are children with disabilities.
Disciplined and removed during preschool
The first time my son was disciplined and removed he was in preschool. The first time he was illegally restrained, secluded, abused and unfairly suspended was kindergarten. In first grade, he was suspended almost every day for the first three weeks, put in illegal prone restraints and seclusion before they called police to eventually have him arrested. My son was pushed out of school, unable to get the help or education he has a right to. I was desperate for answers and assistance, so I reached out to everyone in my community for an emergency meeting regarding the crisis in public schools. The only person who came to his defense was my neighbor. She saw my son as a child, not a monster.
Imagine that: Your stuffed monkey-loving, star-gazing, sports-enthusiast, superhero-worshiping child understands the adults he spends the most time within school believe he is bad. I’ve advocated fiercely for my son, but the response is always the same. Our students are not heard, valued or respected. Education is a human right, but what does public education mean if we’re not working to embrace, include, and effectively serve all children?
Rather than harnessing his incredible potential, enthusiasm for leading, investment in positive experiences that lift him up, my son has been systematically removed from the classroom and repeatedly denied opportunities to learn — not only facing multiple unjustified suspensions, he was also expelled and transferred to several schools within a short time. While other kids were allowed to learn, make friends, eat in the same lunchroom as peers, and even go on field trips my son was forgotten and abused at the hands of people who should have protected him or found ways to support and engage him.
We need timely, equitable action
Even though I feel alone in this unwanted journey, I am not. I have sadly heard similar heartbreaking stories over the years, and that is absolutely unacceptable.
I’m not only trying to save my son but also protect other children from the same or similar experiences. And for every day that I fight against injustice in our schools, students continue to suffer from harassment, educational neglect, racism, bias, and a fundamental inability to inform families of the discipline practices and decisions taking place. We need timely and equitable action. Our children cannot wait any longer.
There is often zero tolerance when it comes to children like mine. No intervention, prevention, awareness or positive redirection. They are not allowed to defend themselves, be vulnerable or advocate for others. We need immediate systematic changes that will end Minnesota’s culture of school pushout and keep children where they can learn and grow.
Struggles and barriers
Although my son is not suspended as much now in high school, he has experienced harm, removal from class and dismissal. He is under open enrollment in an outside district away from where we reside, which hasn’t been easy. It still comes with a cost as we have struggled and faced many barriers, but things are a little better now with consistency. I am proud of all his amazing hard work and accomplishments in and outside of school, especially after everything he has had to overcome. But I do not wish this kind of journey on anyone.
I am calling on legislators this session to do what others could not: It’s time to put an end to inequitable and traumatizing discipline practices and work to replace dismissals with better forms of discipline. Every child has the right to be safe, happy and successful in school.
Susan Montgomery is a parent and community advocate in Ramsey County.
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