Parents, advocates speak out against discipline disparity in schools

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Published: August 25, 2015, 7:49 pm Updated: August 25, 2015, 11:43 pm
RICHMOND, Va. (WRIC) — Parents, advocates speak out against discipline disparity in schools “Why are you pushing out African American Children?” said Zakiya SankaraJabar with the group Dignity In Schools.
It’s a question parents and advocates are asking across the country. Dignity In Schools says there’s a disparity between punishments for black students versus their white peers. They point to data compiled by national and local organizations. The group points out two local school systems saying:
“In Henrico County Public Schools, although black students make up about 37 percent of the student body, they comprised nearly 70 percent of students receiving outof-school suspensions, compared to nearly 19 percent for their white peers.
In Chesterfield, black students make up over 27 percent of the student body, but comprised over 52 percent of all students with out-of-school suspensions and about 68 percent of all students expelled.” “The data shows high, disproportionate rates of suspensions and expulsions of African American students,” said Janelle George, who represents the NAACP. “Despite research showing African American students don’t misbehave more frequently or severely than their white peers.”
Henrico parent Lorraine Wright says her son, an upcoming seventh grader, was almost held back twice in elementary school.
“First time in middle school, he just received the presidential academic achievement award. So can my child learn? Yes. Can he be academically successful? Absolutely,” said Wright.
But Wright says there’s a perception problem with many teachers.
“It’s proving that the time is not taken with some of our children and there’s this rush to judgment,” said Wright.
“Parents are suffering in silence, parents are suffering from shame,” said SankaraJabar.
Sankara-Jabar says they’re calling for more staff training, and classes that aren’t Eurocentric.
Both Chesterfield and Henrico questioned the accuracy of those numbers but said they’ve done several things to address the issue. Here’s a full statement from Chesterfield County:
Student Discipline
  • While we cannot speak for the police department, it is our understanding that those numbers are not an accurate depiction of our work or of the number of arrests of students.
  • School divisions across Virginia are required by state law to report certain offenses to local law enforcement. There are more than 50 offenses on this list that we are legally required to report to police. Included among these are: possession of drugs, assault and battery, bomb threats and possessing weapons on school property.
  • The school division has a responsibility to play as well – and during the last several years, we have been enhancing our efforts. During the last several school years we have worked to implement strategies such as Positive Behavioral Interventions and Supports, restorative justice and Promote Respect.
  • Our efforts are working–During the 2013-14 school year, the number of incidents we were required to report to law enforcement was 1,444. During the 2014-15 school year, the number of incidents we were required to report to law enforcement was 866. That is a nearly 40 percent decrease in incidents.
  • Our building leaders attribute this to the continued implementation of PBIS, work in the restorative justice field and a refocusing on our core values through promoting respect – not just of others, but of yourself as well.
  • For those in the community who don’t know, MEGA Mentors started in 2009 when Dr. Newsome approached community leaders and the Chesterfield Education Foundation about the need for more African-American role models in schools. MEGA (Mentors Expecting Greater Achievement) works to close achievement gaps while making a positive difference in the lives of African-American and other underrepresented students. Student participation has increased from a handful in 2010 to 530 this year. MEGA’s core program consists of in-school mentoring sessions conducted twice a month at Carver, Falling Creek and Providence middle schools and the Academy 360 program. Three high schools (Chesterfield Community, Meadowbrook and Thomas Dale) also benefit from MEGA’s work, and MEGA last year enabled more than 700 high school students to attend a free screening of the Academy Award-nominated movie, “Selma.”

Academic Achievement

  • According to the Virginia Department of Education’s School Report Card, Chesterfield County Public Schools African-American students are outperforming their peers in nearly every SOL test.
  • At the elementary school level, Chesterfield’s African-American students outperformed their peers on every SOL test.
  • At the middle school level, Chesterfield’s African-American students saw many pass rate percentages improve by 4-7 points with a 12-point increase in science.
  • At the high school level, Chesterfield’s African-American students saw a 7-point increase in math pass rates, almost a 3-point increase in history pass rates, and nearly a 3-point increase in science pass rates

Here’s a full statement from Henrico County Public Schools:

We welcome constructive feedback and opportunities for improvement, and we continue to make great strides in reducing the number of student suspensions. For example, in 2013-14, 94 percent of our students received no out-of-school suspension whatsoever. Furthermore, suspensions of African American students are down 33 percent since 2009-10, generating a gain of more than 16,000 additional hours of instruction for those students. But our work is not done. A two-year public overhaul of our Code of Conduct was completed in the spring, and the new Code is now in effect. In addition, we believe a system that includes caring adults, behavior supports, counseling, and family engagement will help build on this positive momentum.

Meanwhile parents and advocates will continue to speak throughout the week. Here’s their schedule of events:

Wednesday, August 25 at 6:00 p.m., Community Forum and Award Ceremony, The Hyatt RIC, 4401 S. Laburnum Avenue, Richmond, Va., 23231

Thursday, August 27 at 1:00 p.m., Press Conference, NAACP State Headquarters, 1214 West Graham, Richmond, Va., 23220

Thursday, August 27 at 8:00 p.m., Henrico County School Board Meeting, 5915 Nine Mile Road Richmond, Va., 23223

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