Officials of the Fort Worth Independent School District are considering an alternative to student suspensions for low-level offenses to narrow the racial disparity in punishment across students, according to the Fort Worth Star-Telegram. A report from the US Department of Education found Black students made nearly half of the district’s suspensions over the past decade.
The Fort Worth ISD’s chief of student support services, Cherie Washington, told the Star-Telegram the district is looking at a “reset center project” like that adopted in the Dallas Independent School District. In Dallas, they created these “reset centers” or rooms to allow students to regroup and work their problems out before returning to the classroom. In addition to removing the student from the classroom, Washington said teachers and staff would need to be trained in how to handle behavioral issues among students as well.
More on the program from Fort Worth Star-Telegram:
Besides piloting the reset program, the district has also tried to work with students with behavior issues this year to find solutions other than suspensions, Washington said. For example, in years past, if students got into a fight, they would be given an automatic disciplinary consequence. Usually that meant the student was suspended, either in school or out of school.
Now, if students get into a fight, a school administrator might call them in and talk about what happened. If the fight was the result of a misunderstanding, the administrator might bring in an intervention specialist to talk with the students and to try to resolve the situation without suspending anyone, she said. If the administrator or intervention specialist spots signs that the student is dealing with deeper-seated problems that are causing the behavior, they might connect the student with a counselor or case manager, she said.
Changing the punishment for Black students to something less harsh may be a step forward. However, the program may overlook the underlying issue no one seems to be talking about: racism. Over at the Dallas ISD, their reset centers were working as fewer students were reported to need disciplining. However, the Dallas Morning News reported 45 percent of the district’s students referred to those reset centers were Black students.
That’s exactly where staff and teacher training would come in handy. Teachers tainted with implicit biases already see their Black students as a problem before they even start one. According to the American Psychology Association, 26 percent of Black students received at least one suspension for a minor infraction over three years in comparison to only 2 percent of white students.
Yes, helping Black students avoid suspensions racking up on their student record is important. However, it doesn’t change the fact that they see themselves and students who look like them pulled from the classroom more often than their white peers.