The Office of Child Advocate issued a report Wednesday focused on the discipline and school-based arrests of children 12 and under in West Hartford Public Schools.
By Ronni Newton
The West Hartford Public Schools administration received a “Findings and Recommendations” letter Wednesday from the Office of Child Advocate (OCA) regarding discipline practices and school-based arrests of students ages 12 and under, but officials said they have already been implementing many of the recommendations made by the OCA, which were based on concerning data from the 2018-2109 and 2019-2020 school years, and the most recent data is much more favorable.
Assistant Superintendent for Administration Andrew Morrow, who will assume the role of interim superintendent following the departure of Superintendent Tom Moore at the end of June, shared a statement issued by West Hartford Public Schools late Wednesday.
“The Office of the Child Advocate (OCA) released a report today that is the product of an eight-month review regarding the West Hartford Public Schools’ discipline practices,” the statement reads. “The OCA initiated its inquiry into the District’s practices as part of its systemic review of exclusionary discipline practices and school-based arrests of younger students across the State of Connecticut. The report concludes that students of color and students with disabilities, and particularly those of middle school age, were disproportionately impacted by the District’s discipline practices for the 2018-2019 and 2019-2020 school years.”
In addition to highlighting concerns, the OCA’s “Findings Report” also stated that the district has implemented positive initiatives that include the promotion of educational equity and cultural competency at all schools, and noted that during the most recent school year, 2021-2022, there were were no arrests at all of students ages 12 and under.
Another positive measure noted by OCA is that West Hartford Police have recently participated in a new partnership with the Connecticut Institute for Youth and Police Relations and the Tow Youth Justice Institute (CIYPR) that focuses on the “science and criminological research of best practices for police interactions with youth.”
According to the OCA, its deeper review of school disciplinary practices and school-based arrests of younger students statewide followed an investigative report regarding Waterbury Public Schools. In that 34-page report, the Waterbury Public Schools District was cited for over-reliance on police to deal with behavioral issues in young children.
In 2019-2020 in particular, West Hartford had one of the highest rates of school-based arrests of younger students in the state.
“OCA has continued to monitor student discipline practices and school-based arrests of younger students (students aged 12 and under) throughout the state. OCA regularly examines school-based arrest data produced by the Connecticut Judicial Branch Court Support Services Division (CSSD), which data indicated that during the 2019- 20 school year, in West Hartford there were seven (7) arrests of students aged 12 and under, one of the highest numbers of arrests of students this age in the state. All of these children are Black, Hispanic or bi-racial. The majority of students arrested in West Hartford that school year were Black or Hispanic,” Child Advocate Sarah Eagan wrote in the eight-page “Findings and Recommendations” letter addressed to Superintendent Tom Moore dated June 22, 2022.
According to the OCA findings, among the younger students, all of the arrests were for misdemeanors, and although several were referred to the Juvenile Review Board, all were eventually discharged. All of the students who were arrested were girls, and according to the report, based on data provided by West Hartford Police, two of the arrests were for theft, one was for “out of control behavior,” and four were for a “school-based physical altercation with a peer.”
The overall suspension rate for students in West Hartford Public Schools, however, including Hispanic and Black students, is less than the statewide suspension rate, the OCA report states.
The report also notes that overall, there has been a “disproportionate impact of student discipline on the District’s students of color and students with disabilities, particularly marked for middle school age students,” and the Connecticut State Department of Education (CSDE) has classified West Hartford as a “Tier 3” district, in need of greater support and technical assistance to address the “consistently high disproportionality” of discipline.
Data from the 2018-2019 school – the last year not impacted by the COVID-19 pandemic – was cited with the following statistics highlighted as reason for concern:
- The district-wide rate of school suspension for White students (Kindergarten through twelfth grade) was 2.4%, while the rate of suspension for Black and Hispanic students was 8.9% and 8.5% respectively.
- The suspension rate for Black and Hispanic students at Sedgwick Middle School in West Hartford was 35.4% and 23.8% respectively, and the rate of suspension for White students was 9.4%.
- The suspension rate for students receiving special education services at Sedgwick Middle school was 30.9%.
West Hartford Public Schools has been involved in the review, has committed to “a data and stake-holder driven framework for ensuring equitable discipline across district schools,” and reviewed drafts of the Findings Letter prior to its publication.
“The District has transparently cooperated with the OCA throughout its review of our discipline practices in the spirit of seeking to improve our schools for all students,” the West Hartford Public Schools statement reads. “Even before the OCA’s inquiry and the report published today, the District identified these issues as areas for improvement. Over the last several years, we have worked diligently to address our discipline rates both at Sedgwick Middle School and district-wide. The District is dedicated to ensuring the success of each and every member of our diverse student body. We have been at the forefront of and are deeply committed to our diversity, equity and inclusion efforts. While we acknowledge that our discipline trend has not met our desired pace of change, we have taken accountability and, as a direct result, that trend has been steadily moving in a positive direction.”
The district’s statement also notes that “the OCA highlights many of the efforts we have independently undertaken to improve our discipline data in its report, and recommends the following actions to build on our efforts:
- Consider a partnership with the Child Health and Development Institute of Connecticut;
- Provide frequent updates to the Board of Education regarding our Multi-Tiered System of Support and equitable discipline framework; and
- Create a process for documenting and reviewing 911 calls to inform our Multi-Tiered System of Support.”
Juan Melián has been named the new principal at Sedgwick Middle School, effective July 1, and Morrow said that he and the new administrative team are looking forward to continuing to implement the recommendations at that school, as they will be throughout the district.
“We appreciate that the OCA has recognized the District’s substantive work in this area and the positive trend resulting from this work, and value the recommendations offered to further our efforts. The District takes the report findings seriously, and has already taken steps to implement these recommendations. We intend to continue our collaboration with the OCA, West Hartford Police Department and West Hartford Juvenile Review Board to uphold and foster an inclusive environment at all of our schools,” the statement reads.
OCA advised the West Hartford Public School administration that the district is not the only one in the state facing similar issues, and that “children age 12 and under continue to be arrested and suspended in school districts across the state, often with disproportionate impact for children of color.” Other nearby districts that have received a “Tier 3” classification include Avon, Farmington, Simsbury, and Wethersfield.
All districts that face similar challenges should consider the OCA’s recommendations, Eagan’s letter states.
A PDF of the OCA “Findings and Recommendations” letter can be found below.
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