The Youth Justice Project of the Southern Coalition for Social Justice released several racial equity report cards to highlight racial disparities in school districts' discipline and academic achievement.
The Chapel Hill-Carrboro City Schools racial equity report card for the 2015-16 school year
showed that 51.3 percent of short-term suspensions were Black students, while only 23.6 percent were white.
The study also concurred that, in the 2015-16 school year, Black students were 10 times more likely to receive a short-term suspension in the CHCCS than white students.
Peggy Nicholson, co-director of the Youth Justice Project within the Southern Coalition for Social Justice, said her organization was motivated to create the racial equity report cards because it was fairly easy to find overall school discipline and academic achievement for districts, but it was difficult to find that information broken down by race.
"We wanted to create a tool so students, parents, community advocates and educators have easy access to some of that data, so they can start looking at overall racial disproportionality and their community’s school-to-prison pipeline," Nicholson said.
She describes the school-to-prison pipeline as the policies and practices that push students out of school and into the juvenile and adult court systems, which has been found by the Southern Coalition to disproportionately affect people of color. She hopes this research will start a community conversation to pressure school districts to take initiative concerning issues of racial equity.
An community organizer with the Campaign for Racial Equity, Wanda Hunter, said the school discipline problem is especially concerning because students can't be expected to perform well if they can't attend school. Hunter said she thinks that if a student experiences worse discipline because of their race, it impacts their perception of how the school district values them.
Hunter stated that one of the biggest strengths of the racial equity report cards is that they reveal gaps in achievement and discipline.
“We think looking at discipline outcomes is really important, because for so many years the focus was just on achievement,” Hunter said.
Nicholson said Chapel Hill is a great example of a school system using the racial equity report cards. An update to the Board of Education states that the amount of office discipline referrals attributed to black students dropped by almost 10 points.
In a statement, CHCCS Superintendent Pamela Baldwin described how she was made aware of the problem when she arrived in the district.
“When I arrived in this district, I heard it said many times that we are a great school district — for most of our kids,” Baldwin said. “I very quickly saw the unfortunate truth in that statement. There is indeed a sizable portion of our kids who are not enjoying the same kind of successful school experience... and that is not okay.”
The CHCCS system has launched a detailed equity plan to bring attention to the issue and focus on reducing disproportionality.
"The Racial Equity Report Card is nicely organized, and unfortunately the information is not new to us," she said.
"We recognize our shortcomings regarding racial disproportionalities. We recently launched a very detailed equity plan that addresses this issue by breaking it down into three distinct areas: culture, curriculum and instruction," she said. "If we neglect any one of these areas, we will fail our students."
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