Indiana is at a close second after the state of Missouri for the highest number of suspensions of African American males in eighth and ninth grade. The state is also one of only 11 in the nation that allows teachers to send a student out of the school for non-violent offences and violent ones.
Why is this happening? That’s the question that educators tried to answer Thursday during a panel discussion at the Indiana Convention Center. The discussion was a part of Indiana Black Expo Summer Celebration.
Expo organizers gathered educators across the state at the IBE Education Conference in efforts to increase cultural competency, parental involvement as well as finding alternatives to suspensions and expulsions.
The educators on the panel included Dr. Jeff Butts, Superintendent of MSD Wayne Township; Dr. Dionne Blue, Chief of Diversity Officer, Evansville Vanderburgh School Corporation; Dr. Steven Baule, Superintendent of Muncie Community Schools, and Carol Craig, Consultant, Cultural Competency and Leadership Development.
According to panelists, defiant and insubordinate behaviors are just some of the many reasons why African American students are being suspended from schools.
There were eight expulsions last year in Wayne Township, Butts said. All of these expulsions were African American males for possession of a weapon on school grounds. Another 35 percent were suspended for fighting and verbal aggression between students and teachers.
“Relationships between the teachers and students are very important,” Craig said.
Craig, a former Indianapolis NAACP co-chair, explained 75 percent of the suspensions happening in schools are due to noncriminal activity like verbal aggression. Many children can sometimes feel disrespected by their teachers simply by interpreting a conversation negatively.
“The zero-tolerance policy shouldn’t be used in schools,” Craig said. “Making all the punishments the same no matter what the situation is taking away the flexibility and judgement of our educators.”
Zero-tolerance policy is a policy of punishing any infraction of a rule, regardless of accidental mistakes, ignorance, or extenuating circumstances.
Lori Desautels, as assistant professor at Marion University, said the idea of zero-tolerance came about after the shooting of several students in Columbine, Colorado.
“After the columbine shootings took place, there was this urgency of getting control in the schools, and our schools become more like prisons because we felt we didn't have the structure or boundaries we needed to.”
Instead, Muncie Superintendent Baule said, teachers need to work to build relationships with students.
“We need to do a better job with engaging the kids and working more on positive behaviors instead of negative behaviors,” Muncie Superintendent Baule said. “Disrespect and verbal antagonism starts in such a way that if the teachers embrace them correctly they can really de-escalate the problems themselves.” said it is important to look at the larger issues behind a student's behavior to better understand, and address a disruptive student's actions
The relationship is not only important for the teachers and students but for the parents and the child as well. Indianapolis Public Schools Key Learning Center Involvement Educator Tina Naugles attended the conference with her ninth grade son.
“It’s very important that my son gets a sound academic curriculum that will prepare him for the future without any biases of his skin color,” Naugles explains. “He’s had some trouble with kids his age wanting to pull him into a negative group but he made the choice not to and I’m very proud of that choice.”
One alternative to suspensions that Consultant Craig gave was a partnership with a local community center. When children are sent there, they are enrolled in behavior classes, being taught emotional learning skills as well as doing some community service.
One thing that a lot of teachers and educators may not understand is that this age group is going through an early adolescence stage in their brain development. Craig suggests educators study brain development so that they can look at why disruptive kids act in the ways that they do. This method will teach educators how to work with them in different situations.
Another problem occurring in the school systems is that police officers become too aggressive with the students, Baule said. Some of these officers are triggering these students which cause them to act out in a way that they shouldn’t.
“I’ve noticed that the teachers that take the time to sit and talk with students during lunch time or free time have a better connection with their students,” Baule explains. “Rewarding positive behavior, having a good cultural balance and making sure kids know that teachers recognize them and how well they work within a cultural environment are all different ways we are trying to keep the suspension rate down.”
|BSU at the Black Expo Summer Celebration|