Portsmouth, Va.— On Saturday, the Portsmouth Chapter of Virginia Organizing celebrated a milestone victory in its campaign to reduce suspensions and disrupt the school-to-prison pipeline in Portsmouth Public Schools. Portsmouth School Board members voted 8-1 to approve a new Code of Conduct that relaxes rigid zero tolerance policies and puts in place more flexibility for teachers and principals to decide matters of discipline for students.
“I am celebrating this as a victory,” said Tyran Green, a Virginia Organizing leader and mother whose daughter was expelled last year for fighting. “I joined this campaign to make sure what I experienced won’t happen to other parents and their kids, and I am overjoyed that we finally were able to convince the School Board to act accordingly.”
Tyran successfully appealed the expulsion, and her daughter graduated in June.
Portsmouth suspensions have risen over the past four years. In 2016, almost 2,500 students received short-term suspensions, often for minor infractions such as cell phone use and attendance. Last May, parents, students, and community advocates came together in a campaign to reduce the exorbitant number of suspensions that Portsmouth students experience each year.
While Superintendent Dr. Elie Bracy worked to reduce suspensions last school year, the new Code of Conduct provides policy to support the efforts of Virginia Organizing and Dr. Bracy to create a permanent reduction in suspensions.
“I want to congratulate the School Board members who did the right thing in passing this code of conduct. We have worked tirelessly, speaking at every school board meeting, holding press conferences, and exposing this issue. I am so glad to see our hard work paid off,” said Sergio Neal, a leader in the campaign.
Following this victory, the Portsmouth Chapter of Virginia Organizing will next tackle a transparency and accountability campaign, calling on Portsmouth City Council to make themselves more available for the public and more transparent in their personal business transactions. The chapter will release their list of concerns in September.
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Virginia Organizing is a non-partisan statewide grassroots organization that brings people together to create a more just Virginia.