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Eliminate the Suspension for Incomplete Homework Policy

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I am a parent of a third grader at Ernie Pyle Elementary School #90 and I am writing you in an effort to solicit your support and assistance on a matter that needs immediate attention.


On the morning of April 16th, shortly after school began, I received a phone call from my nine-year old son who attends Ernie Pyle Elementary, School #90 of Indianapolis Public Schools. My son said to me; “Mommy, I am in GLC (Guidance Learning Center/In-School Suspension) because I didn’t return my report card envelope.” I was in disbelief not only because my son was in in-school suspension for such a trivial issue but because no formal notice had been sent to me from his third grade teacher indicating she needed the report card envelope. I contacted the teacher via email to inquire when she sent a formal notice. Instead, I received a response from the school’s principal. He states:


“…As you know returning the report card envelope with a parent signature is repeated practice as you have done the past two grading periods.  [Your  son] chose not to write down this notation in his homework log.  As a second semester 3rd grader and a soon-to-be 4th grader [your son] is well aware of the expectations put in place by the classroom teacher and is fully capable of writing down his assignments as well as reminders.

He adds:

…I see that the responsibility of completing the homework log on three separate occasions is [your son’s] and given the fact that returning the report card envelope with a parent signature is common policy and practice I see no reason why [your son] should not be held responsible.”


According to the American Civil Liberties Union (ACLU) and the NAACP Legal Defense Fund (LDF), the school-to-prison pipeline is described as policies that “isolate, punish and push out” students for minor and trivial infractions. The ACLU argues that "[z]ero-tolerance policies criminalize minor infractions of school rules [and] lead to students being criminalized for behavior”.  The American Psychological Association (APA), as cited by the NAACP LDF has determined that these types of school practices “harm academic achievement for all students while increasing the chances that those excluded [like detained in in-school suspension] will be held back, dropout, and involved with the juvenile and criminal justice systems”.  Yet despite this well documented and scientific body of research, Ernie Pyle School #90 has taken these actions to an egregious level, by criminalizing elementary students for “failure to complete nightly homework” and these deleterious effects outweigh learning outcomes.


Under the “Homework Policy” at Ernie Pyle Elementary my son has been sent to in-school suspension for “failure to complete homework” four times including the one described above. An example of failed completion was his failure to write at least four to five sentences for a book summary and according to his third grade teacher, “he just wrote four”.  Therefore, he was in violation of the policy and sent to in-school suspension for the entire day. Because Ernie Pyle Elementary has implemented a school policy that specifies that “failure to complete homework [will] constitute insubordination which violates the District Code of Conduct”, it has given Ernie Pyle teachers the license to assign students to in-school suspension under whatever they perceive to be “failure to complete” and categorized to be “homework” (e.g. lack of parent signature) and obviously, their leader, Principal Mark Pugh, stands behind this decision. 


In-school suspension is a form of punishment not dissimilar from jail or incarceration for adults. It is a detention center, punitive in nature, where opportunities to learn are interrupted-in the same way as those incarcerated are stymied; children are isolated from their learning community-in the same way that an offender is isolated from society; children are  escorted to lunch-like a road-side prison chain gang. And much like the formally incarcerated, children assigned to in-school suspension are stigmatized as troublesome, disruptive, irresponsible non-learners. Moreover, being repeatedly assigned to in-school suspension results in long-term adverse academic outcomes as highlighted above by the APA (i.e. being held back, increases chances of dropping out, etc.). In short, in-school suspension acclimates innocent children to the conditions of the criminal justice system. This form of orientation desensitizes my son to less punitive and appropriate disciplinary measures and prepares him for a lifetime of incarceration beginning in school and by preparing him for prison.


I have not provided the above anecdote and subsequent description of in-school suspension to exonerate my son from any “responsibility”. Rather, I have provided this context to demonstrate the ways in which this school has sought to teach “responsibility” to children by criminalizing student dis-organization instead of helping them develop ways to be organized.

Ironically, in my 12 years as a licensed educator and school leader-including employment within IPS, I have witnessed a number of teachers that have failed to complete mandatory and daily paper work, like recording attendance for each assigned teaching period or failure to sign a hall pass. However, I have yet to observe a teacher alienated or ostracized from their professional community like being confined to a detention center, suspended from teaching duties, separated from their colleagues, and escorted around the school building as if they were prisoners based upon minute infractions. What was typically given was a friendly reminder, or an opportunity to complete or correct forms.


No one would subject their own children to this sort of criminalization, and I cannot allow this school to continue to do so to other children.


On April 21st, three local community stakeholders (all educators and one nationally recognized in his field in educational leadership) and I spoke with the principal and the Elementary Education Executive Directorabout this policy. In the meeting, we discovered several issues that warrant immediate attention:

1)      The Homework Policy was developed and written by the principal without any student or parent/family input, consultation by experts in this field, empirical research, or any investigation of how teachers were assigning homework, what type of homework, etc. In other words, the principal made a unilateral decision that adversely impacted student achievement and their families without all the necessary information a leader should gather before making such a drastic decision.


2)      When asked to identify what parents and community stakeholder reviewed the policy before adoption, the principal indicated thatparents/families did not have the opportunity to review the policy before adoption. However, he indicated that parents can review the policy “upon enrollment” and that the “policy is on the website”. Moreover, the Elementary Executive Director, presented the notion that because Ernie Pyle is an “option” school, that parents make a “choice” if they want to subscribe to such policies. This unfortunately indicates that the administration feels that no matter how unjust a policy is or the application of a policy becomes that because parents “choose” to send their children to this “option” school that the unjustness can continue because parents have the “option” to withdraw.  


3)      When reviewing the Ernie Pyle Elementary School Improvement Plan (SIP), we discovered that there were no parents or community stakeholders listed within their document as contributing members of site based decisions. Although the Elementary Education Director stated that this must be a mistake, we wonder to what degree has parent and community input and involvement been sought when making decisions, since we had an exemplar of a policy (Homework Policy) that was made in such an authoritarian way.


This meeting resulted in revisiting the policy-but no direct action to remove it was explicitly stated. This meeting did positively result in a verbal acknowledgement that an error was made in sending my son to in-school suspension, however, we question, to what degree has errors been made in the past with other children and moreover, how many errors will go undetected while one is “revisiting” a unilateral policy?  This meeting resulted in an admission that parents and community stakeholders should be include in policy making decisions. However, we question, where else in IPS is this intentional exclusion of parents/families conducted in our schools? Lastly, in this meeting, there was no admission by the principal or director that this policy was harmful to children and perpetuated the school to prison-pipeline and therefore, we question the competence of this leadership


Before this matter came to fruition, I contacted all members of the Indianapolis Public School Board on March 4th and discussed my concern about the lack of transparency at Ernie Pyle School #90. I detailed how students were adversely experiencing “high stakes” homework assignments where students were sent to in-school suspension although  some grade levels (3rd grade) did not even receive grades on the high stakes homework. However, I was forwarded to the Superintendent, and although I believe he is willing to help, he stated that it would be inappropriate for him to interfere on a “school-level issue”.


What has to happen to children before an elected board and the appointed Superintendent interfere in “school-level issues” that take such a deleterious effect? How much more marginalization, alienation, and intentional exclusion must we undergo before someone decides that this school-level issue warrants immediate action and further analysis at the district and school board level?


If it was happening to their children-I doubt they would have to go to such length to stop the injustice. 


In an effort to eliminate the homework policy that perpetuates the school-to-prison pipeline and this intentional exclusion of parent/family involvement, I am asking for your assistance and hope that you would sign this petition. 

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Dr. Jada Phelps-Moultrie needs your help with “The School to Prison Pipeline Starts with "Incomplete" Homework: Kindergarten on Up, Students Receive In-School Suspension for Incomplete Homework”. Join Dr. and 194 supporters today.