Imagine a world without racism. What would it look like, feel like, and sound like to be in a space where you aren’t judged, torn down, held back, made a spectacle of, or targeted by police officers and citizens just because you fit a description?
Traditionally, we see news stories and read articles that highlight how racism is driven through socioeconomics, in corporate America, banking and finance, healthcare, affordable housing, and transportation. However, we too often skip over one of the most prevalent areas that each of the aforementioned areas impacts, which to me is one of the most prevalent drivers of racism, education.
I have seen and handled many discipline cases as an educator in Metro Atlanta. More than 89% of the cases dealt with biased policies that suggested harsher punishments for disciplinary reasons. Many of the victims of the unjust consequences were Black and brown students.
The girls were suspended from school for 4-5 days for hair color or uniform violations regarding how their skirts or pants fit. The boys were suspended for being seen as a classroom disturbance for walking around the classroom or standing up at their desks as opposed to sitting down.
It’s systemic racism based on a culture in public education that Black and brown children are “threats” to the learning environment. I have seen attendance, behavior, and discipline policies used to distinctly push Black and brown children out of public schools into the school to prison pipeline. It’s subtly done.
Oftentimes beginning in teacher break rooms and team meetings around students who display the “typical” behavior. Early on in my career, I did this, too. As a young teacher, I felt that it was the teacher’s “norm” to join in the conversations and discuss how bad the students are and their families.
Discipline policies in public schools must be revised to ensure equitable solutions for students.
It was important for me to give these examples of how biases exist even in teachers who are smothered in the culture created by systemic racism in schools. Now, imagine the same world from earlier, free of racism with schools that are free of biased policies on attendance, behavior, and discipline.
Think about how, too often, Black and brown students are entrapped in discipline hearings due to school districts’ abilities to write and implement unbiased policies that quite frankly allow school leaders and teachers to inflict bias through these policies.
In the State of Georgia, a major case regarding discipline in Gwinnett County has opened the minds of stakeholders regarding school district policies. In fact, the GaDOE was finally held accountable in a recent decision rendered to reverse their disciplinary sanction of a Gwinnett student. See more of this in the original story posted by the Southern Poverty Law Center.
I think that this decision is progressive and will help to shed much-needed light on many school district discipline policies in Georgia. The GBOE reversed the decision by the Gwinnett County Board of Education. GCPS and Gwinnett County always highlight how they are the most diverse county and school district in the state.
However, the district has hundreds of concerns from parents, students, and some teachers who called out the district for racially biased discipline policies and procedures.
In the five-page ruling, the finding states that there was no evidence that the student indicated he made a threat or intended to physically harm his teacher. D.A. Now let me pause here. I am a teacher. I’ve seen how classroom management and lack of support can impact teacher engagement with students.
Furthermore, I have also seen teachers trained to automatically use the “discipline” process for students that have previous behavior incidents. In this particular class, the student is Latinx. I’ve seen teachers make fun of students because of language barriers and make them feel less than because of low self-esteem and other external issues that impact their educational journey.
Here’s a fun fact about discipline. The student mentioned in this ruling is one of the thousands of students in Georgia who face exclusionary discipline each year. These recommendations and processes are often driven by negative, racial stereotypes of the Black and brown students and their families.
Too often our children are being pushed out of public schools for subjective and minor infractions. Sounds familiar? Of course it does because this system mirrors the criminal justice system that continues mass incarceration within this country.
So yes, this Gwinnett Latinx student is a pioneer for change. This decision will set a precedent for school disciplinary hearings in districts across the state and hopefully the country. It is shedding much-needed light in areas that have been covered up and closed off in education far too long.
We need students to know their rights and report these injustices. Parents cannot stop when they get a “no” this is our policy. Ask about the procedures, the process, and how it works.
We cannot fail another student because of racial biases found within policies that give educators a free pass of continuing the work of systemic racism.
Jason has worked in education for over 15 years as a teacher, blogger and community advocate. He speaks and writes primarily about the need to improve education for Black boys, particularly increasing the number of Black male educators in schools. In addition to blogging here at EdLanta, Jason is also a featured writer at Education Post.