We teach our children to care for their siblings. We know that being a family means looking out for one another. Like many parents, Jamie Jackson taught her three children Aliyah, Brianna and Malik these lessons. But when they stood by each other in a tricky situation, all three were suspended.
This is the story of a broken school discipline system—one Children’s Law Center is advocating to fix.
Coping With Bullying
15-year-old twins Aliyah and Brianna were frequently teased, tormented and bullied. The sisters did their best to cope. However, school administrators did little to protect the girls or minimize the conflict, leading them to be suspended repeatedly and sent home with no solution in sight.
On one occasion, the school told Brianna to leave school without notifying Ms. Jackson, which left Brianna without a ride home and wandering the streets alone. Her mom had no way of knowing her daughter wasn’t safely in class. Sometimes, the school refused to document “suspensions,” unofficially asking Brianna to leave school, which meant the school didn’t have to take responsibility for their broken discipline system.
“Ms. Jackson stays in close contact with the school and works every day to make sure her kids are safe and receiving the best education services possible,” CLC attorney Evan Cass shares. “However, on more than one occasion the school simply refused to help her, and that’s where we come in.”
Before Children’s Law Center’s involvement, the children were out of school for weeks, missing critical hours in the classroom.
Standing up for Family
“The worst incident was when a group of kids were bullying Brianna, and Aliyah tried to help her. Instead of breaking up the fight and protecting Brianna, the school’s administrator—a young man—intervened by putting Aliyah in a chokehold,” Ms. Jackson recounts.
The twins’ older brother Malik, who is protective of his little sisters, later approached this administrator to complain. The conversation did not go smoothly. As a result, all three children were suspended for more than thirty days, through the end of the school year.
For Malik, a senior, the long-term suspension was devastating. School officials informed him that he would be barred from graduation activities—and that he might not graduate at all. He had worked too hard to allow that to happen. That’s when CLC attorney Sarah Flohre stepped in.
Through her advocacy, school officials agreed to reduce Malik’s egregious 29-day suspension to 11 days. Sarah then worked with Malik and school officials to create an educational support plan that would help Malik succeed as he returned to school and prepared for graduation.
In the meantime, Aliyah continued to be the victim of bullying. That’s why Cass has worked tirelessly to build a safety plan for Aliyah, and to make sure the school implemented it. He also helped the family file a successful lawsuit, which led to Aliyah receiving more hours with teachers to meet her special education needs in a specialized classroom setting.
When Root Causes Go Unaddressed
Students like the Jackson children—children of color and kids with special needs—are disproportionately suspended and expelled every day. The cycle of suspension with no effort to address the underlying problem is not unique to the Jackson family. CLC attorneys regularly serve kids who are sent home from school instead of receiving the educational supports they need to stay in the classroom and continue learning. Children shouldn’t need a lawyer to get an education. That’s why we must ALL continue fighting for DC kids and their education.
No one sat down to ask WHY Aliyah, Brianna and Malik were being suspended repeatedly and what could be done to help. Repeated suspensions don’t address the root cause of a child’s problem in school—and it fails other students as well.
On January 30, DC Council will hold a hearing to discuss The Student Fair Access to School Act of 2017. If passed, this legislation will help children like Aliyah, Brianna and Malik stay in the classroom, learning. When more students are suspended, studies show ALL students’ academic achievement suffers. Children’s Law Center supports the Student Access to School legislation so we can ensure all students have access to the supports they need to stay engaged and learning. And you can join us!
*This was a multi-year case—CLC attorneys have been advocating for the Jackson family for several years, and not all details or timelines are included here.