GWINNETT COUNTY, Ga.– Last week, the Gwinnett County Board of Education announced critical changes to its student discipline process. Historically, Gwinnett County Public Schools (GCPS) has relied heavily on long-term suspensions, expulsions, and arrests to address student behavior. Under law, children who face long-term suspensions or expulsions must receive a hearing — also referred to as a tribunal — in front of district officials. The new student discipline process aims to reduce the number of students referred to these hearings and expand protections for those students who do undergo the hearing process. Among some of the changes are:
- Referrals for tribunals will be limited to certain behaviors and will require approval from the deputy superintendent.
- Advocates – not just attorneys – will be allowed to represent students and families in tribunals.
- Students will no longer be referred to tribunals (meaning they will not receive long-term suspensions or expulsions) for attendance-related violations.
- Tribunal decisions will now include a review of the interventions provided by the school prior to the disciplinary incident.
- Tribunal rooms will no longer resemble courtrooms.
Gwinnett County has conducted thousands of tribunals over the last few years – more than Atlanta Public Schools, Cobb County, Clayton County, Dekalb County, and Fulton County combined. Among those most impacted by the Board’s previous policies and practices were Black students, students with disabilities, boys, and economically disadvantaged students. The Southern Poverty Law Center and Gwinnett SToPP have been raising concerns about these disparities for years. Under the new process, the Gwinnett County school district aims to eliminate disproportionate discipline practices by 2027.
The following statements are provided by:
Marlyn Tillman, parent, community activist, and co-founder of Gwinnett SToPP
“This is long overdue. Gwinnett SToPP has advocated for these and many other school climate changes since 2008. These changes are only happening because parents, students, and community members demanded them. But does Gwinnett really believe in the cultural change they’re purporting to embark upon?? Dr. Watts (superintendent of Gwinnett County Public Schools) charged the same guardians of the overly punitive system to transform it into a restorative one. He also increased the budget for SROs by almost a million dollars. We will monitor the implementation and continue to hold Dr. Watts accountable for equitable outcomes for our historically marginalized students.”
Claire Sherburne, senior staff attorney, Southern Poverty Law Center
“Like many Gwinnett County parents and community activists, we are cautiously optimistic about these changes. We applaud the district’s stated goal of eliminating the disproportionate discipline on Black students, the shift toward restorative discipline and away from exclusionary discipline, and the recognition that data should guide district policy and practice. But neither this data nor this problem is new – parents and community groups have been voicing concerns about the district’s punitive and inequitable disciplinary practices for years. To meaningfully address the harm caused by these practices, the district must do more than make a few procedural adjustments. It must commit to a cultural overhaul that prioritizes the safety and meaningful inclusion of every student and access to comprehensive and robust student support and services. And in working towards these goals, we hope that the Gwinnett County Board of Education and district officials will listen to the many directly impacted parents and community members who also have vital knowledge and resources to best support children in Gwinnett County.”