Back in 2018, Betsy DeVos, U.S. Secretary of Education, rescinded the guidance that encouraged schools to reduce the number of suspensions and expulsions1, particularly for students of color; This decision came after the Parkland shooting, support that DeVos claimed school teachers felt unsafe at not being able to report students, consequently making other students feel unsafe as well. During this revocation, DeVos cited a study in which researchers argued that the discrepancy between students of color and White students is likely produced by pre-existing behavioral problems and brought into the classroom. The decision to rescind this guidance after the Parkland shooting sparked a match for various civil rights groups, despite receiving 100 recommendations to eliminate it prior to making this decision.
Fast forward to a couple of days ago, US News2 wrote an article discussing the disparities in school punishments–particularly suspensions–by race. As a woman of color that attended her high school years at one of the nation’s most diverse schools3, Foster Senior High School in Tukwila, WA, I remain conflicted. My middle school years were spent in North Middle School, located in Aurora, CO; This is where I experienced school disciplinary action first-hand. My grades were great, teachers raved about my academic performance and all-in-all, I was a pretty good kid. Despite being an achiever and honor roll student, I fell in with the wrong crowd, the popular crowd that always played by their rules. My grades never suffered, but my attitude sure did, and because of my behavior, ISS–otherwise known as in-school suspension–was my new best friend.
I spent a week isolated in a classroom doing course work, away from the students I regularly saw, although I always had ISS with at least one other friend from that crowd. During ISS, it didn’t matter that I had good grades or what my academic status was, nor the amount of after school clubs I took part in. What mattered most was that my attitude and engagement in class wasn’t ideal and could influence others; It was a way to catch students showing disruptive behavior and hopefully intercept that behavior from continuing. More often than not, ISS felt more like a cage designed to make you “reform” to whatever normal looks like. The students around me, “troublemakers” like myself, were primarily poc, with the occasional White kid. Considering that today, children of color make up a little over half of the student population4, I never thought twice about any racial disparities because they were never made obvious to me.
By the time I began attending Foster Senior High School, I was academically a slacker, but my behavior had been for the most part corrected. I followed the rules, or at least I tried to, despite the overwhelming amount of detention time that was allotted to me throughout the years, the majority of which I did my time for and then there were the other detentions that administration failed to mention I had received, reasons unbeknownst to me. This is the part where when trying to figure out my graduation plans, I got told by the administration that I would not graduate due to the amount of detentions I had yet to complete. Scared out of my mind, more at the fact that I’d have to let my parents know that their only daughter wouldn’t graduate, I begged and pleaded for reasoning. As a person of color, especially one coming from Mexico, judgment is really quick to pass on you whether you want to or not, so growing up I learned very fast not to bother applying for grants or scholarships, let alone ask for legal advice when a school tries to scare you silly into complying to something you had no knowledge of.
I still remember that day, eventually the administration told me to complete a round of picking up litter around the campus and have one of the security guards sign off. I walked away only to be questioned by the same security guard–a non-Hispanic White–, I told him my predicament and was getting ready to start my round of humiliation when he stopped me, took a piece of gum out of his pocket, and dropped the wrapper in front of me and ordered me to pick it up. I must have had question marks written on my face, but I picked up the wrapper and threw it at the nearest trash can. Immediately after, he grabbed the slip of paper I needed to have signed off and told me to go graduate.
Again, I never thought twice about the administration’s decision into threatening my graduation, and I let it go. When I think back about how I acted when I was younger, it makes sense to me for why I was in ISS, why I had detentions, and why some teachers simply seemed to hate me. I was a kid. I wasn’t a bad kid, but my behavior still wasn’t the best to avoid me falling into these types of school disciplinary actions. My friends and the people around me were no different, though I saw no blatant and unjustified discrimination. My best guy friend, a Latino, always mouthed off to teachers and walked out of classes, and though he never got into fights nor got suspended, he always had detention. My best girl friend, a non-Hispanic White, was one of the brightest students and was never given detention or suspension, but was always quick to literally throw the first punch near school grounds. Another friend, Albanian, was bullied the two years I had known him for, was the sweetest person and academically challenged and constantly suspended. Despite this, he always showed nothing but positivity and hope for himself. Years later, I found out he was charged on domestic violence, ran with a local gang, and was doing time in jail.
The last friend is a prime example as to why I’m conflicted; not necessarily on DeVos’ decision, but on using the Parkland shooting as a reason behind it. According to Statista5, school shooters are predominantly non-Hispanic Whites, practically triple the amount of Black shooters, and even more against other people of color. For example, Psychology Today6 briefly profiled school shooters and some of the behavioral traits listed were:
- Lack of association with others
- Often described as strange
- Obsessive quality that leads to planning, yet a lack of understanding for consequences of their behavior
While I’ve witnessed suspension and in extreme cases expulsion from school grounds being caused by the student’s own behavior, it doesn’t add up to the fact that Black students and other POC students are punished in this format more than White students.
To further prove the racial gap in the educational system, The Center for Civil Rights Remedies released a new report called Lost Opportunities7. This report highlights the gap in school disciplinary action for students of color against White students. The study shows that ever since March 2020 with the loss of in-person instruction, the racial disparities are overwhelming, even more so for students that relied on access to mental health services and other important student services. The consensus within this study is that these statistics exist due to a lack of diversity and inclusion within the educational system. The statistics provided all highlight different contributing factors to racial disparities such as:
School disciplinary actions such as suspensions have proven to take a negative toll on students as noted by Future Ed8; These actions promote a continuance of unhealthy behaviors and promote low achievement within the classroom. It’s also noted that there is no accurate way to measure what makes a student’s action worth getting suspended over, which in some cases have shown to simply be due to a minor infraction; That’s why D&I software solutions such as ours can alleviate the ethnic-racial stigma that’s placed upon students of color.
As the AI identifies and tracks a student’s behavior and interaction with their peers, it can discreetly engage with and assist students in nudge-based format. By doing so, students won’t feel embarrassed to receive the help they need to become more inclusive, be mindful of their mental health, and positively engage and grow within their environment. By actively encouraging students to work with the software provided, minor infractions, behavior deemed inappropriate due to disability or mental health, and other issues can be addressed, mitigated, and eventually resolved with solutions that cater specifically to the student’s learning habits, pace, and personality.
I can’t help but wonder how different things would have turned out for me if I had access to this type of software at the time. My thoughts keep going to my Albanian friend, more than anything. I wonder if he could have benefited and just how much his life would have changed. I still recall our conversations on social media: he’d send me messages happy to be hired at a new place at work, and he’d also confide in me with how difficult it was for him to leave the life he had behind–how it was a constant struggle between going back or “staying straight”. Like him, I wonder how different things would have turned for the rest of my friends; the popular crowd I connected with in Middle School, the friends I knew back in High School. We all faced different struggles, some of us made it out on our own, regrettably some of those lives were also cut short. In school, we had this mentality that diversity and inclusion is just for show: we’re still segregated, we still choose sides, we represent wherever we come from and the people that accept us with no judgement. We believe it’s for show because there’s no accountability. There’s no one actively following through, caring about you and your success.
Software like this, it’s a completely foreign concept to me because I personally had never experienced true diversity and inclusion, but working within a strong D&I-driven company, alongside people that have spent their professional lives advocating for social justice, that provide strength, real interest, and actively work to develop and continuously improve a software solution that helps promote positive change within oneself and their environment… All of these things give me hope for the newer generation.
- DeVos To Rescind Obama-Era Guidance On School Discipline. (n.d.). NPR.Org. Retrieved October 16, 2020, from https://www.npr.org/2018/12/18/675556455/devos-to-rescind-obama-era-guidance-on-school-discipline
- School Suspension Data Shows Glaring Disparities in Discipline by Race. (n.d.). Retrieved October 16, 2020, from https://www.usnews.com/news/education-news/articles/2020-10-13/school-suspension-data-shows-glaring-disparities-in-discipline-by-race
- Tukwila’s foster high school among most diverse in U.S. (2016, June 3). king5.com. Retrieved October 16, 2020, from https://www.king5.com/article/news/education/tukwilas-foster-high-school-among-most-diverse-in-us/281-228561695
- North middle school profile (2020-21) | Colorado Springs, CO. (2011, May 16). Public School Review. Retrieved October 16, 2020, from https://www.publicschoolreview.com/north-middle-school-profile
- U.S.: Mass shootings by race 1982-2019. (2020, February 26). Statista. Retrieved October 16, 2020, from https://www.statista.com/statistics/476456/mass-shootings-in-the-us-by-shooter-s-race/
- “Profiling” School shooters. (2018, March 29). Psychology Today. Retrieved October 16, 2020, from https://www.psychologytoday.com/us/blog/when-disaster-strikes-inside-disaster-psychology/201803/profiling-school-shooters
- (n.d.). The Center for Civil Rights Remedies at the Civil Rights Project at UCLA. Retrieved October 16, 2020, from https://www.schooldisciplinedata.org/ccrr/index.php
- How school suspensions affect student achievement. (n.d.). FutureEd. Retrieved October 16, 2020, from https://www.future-ed.org/how-school-suspensions-affect-student-achievement/