On June 20th a hearing was held at a Chapel Hill-Carrboro City Schools Board of Education meeting about the need to address racial inequities in how students are disciplined. As we gear up for another school year, I hope that efforts continue to be made to eliminate these inequities. Some activities have already begun. More and more of our neighbors are attending Undoing/Anti-Racism/Dismantling Racism workshops, and the CHCCS this summer held one of these workshops specifically for students and another that many staff attended. (Workshops will be held in the fall and are open to the public. For more information: Undoing Racism/Racial Equity Workshops in Chapel Hill; Dismantling Racism Workshops in Durham.)
A number of folks spoke at that June 20th hearing, including public defender James Williams, who shared these remarks:
Hi, my name is James Williams. I am public defender for Orange and Chatham counties. I come at this from a number of different angles, but one of the things and I’ve mentioned this numerous times: there’s this clear correlation between school failure and children not performing in school, and children and later adults ending up in the criminal justice system. We’re approaching, next year, the 60-year anniversary of Brown v. Board of Education. And Brown v. Board of Education was about equalized educational opportunity for all children. And discipline inequity, in my opinion, is a denial of equal education opportunity for children of color. And when you look at the data, your own data, it’s clear that there [are] significant racial disparities in how school discipline issues are handled in the Chapel Hill-Carrboro school system.
It doesn’t have to be that way. There are things that can be done and I think you’ve begun to attempt some of those things to alleviate and maybe even eliminate this disparity. I want to mention a few things that I think would help:
Number one, there needs to be a clear policy, which I don’t believe exists now, that says, unequivocally, that the elimination of discipline inequality is a policy of the Chapel Hill-Carrboro school system. That message needs to be clear. That message needs to be one that is received by schools, all schools, principals, and teachers. It should not be an option.
Number two, there needs to be an entity, whether that be your present Equity Team or some other entity, whose mission it is to review data that is obtained, whether it is through the PBIS system, that has that information related to discipline, disaggregated by race, that would review that and make sure that the appropriate officials, teachers, principals, review that data and take corrective action. Collecting the data and not having any sort of enforcement mechanism is virtually useless. And so I think those are a couple of things that are not happening now that I think should be included when we address this issue.
Victor Hugo, I’m going to quote from him, he says: “He who opens a school door closes a prison.” And the corollary to that, Victor didn’t say it, but I am: “He who closes a school door, opens a prison.” When you are suspending students you are suspending futures. So let’s not do it, except when it’s absolutely and totally necessary and all other alternatives have been thoroughly exhausted. Thank you.