08:06 AM

Brenda Drake leads discussion on race and school discipline

From in-school suspensions to expulsion, new research finds students of color face greater rates of school discipline than their white classmates.

Confronting those findings and uncovering solutions were at the heart of a community discussion hosted by the Legal Aid Society of Columbus at the Franklin Park Conservatory on Thursday. The group is a nonprofit organization that provides legal aid to economically disadvantaged people in central Ohio.

LASC board member and attorney Brenda Drake, wife of Ohio State University President Michael V. Drake, moderated the discussion titled “Racial Disparity in School Discipline – What this Means for Students in Franklin County Schools.” Drake discussed the issue with a panel of educators, legal experts and researchers.

“Missed instructional days fuel lasting and harmful academic and social effects on young people,” Drake said. “Multiple studies indicate suspensions and expulsions correlate with high dropout rates, a higher instance of having to repeat a grade level and a higher likelihood of interaction with the criminal justice system.”

According to LASC statistics, 75 percent of students they represent in education cases are minorities. Analysis from Ohio State’s Kirwan Institute for the Study of Race and Ethnicity found African American students were suspended or expelled at rates three times higher than their white peers.

Implicit bias, a lack of school counselors and “zero tolerance” policies to address school violence are some of the causes of the racial disparity seen in school discipline. A lack of empathy or understanding can also play a role.

Missed instructional days fuel lasting and harmful academic and social effects on young people
Brenda Drake, Legal Aid Society of Columbus

Theda Gibbs-Grey, assistant professor of teacher education at Ohio University, said teachers and administrators need to consider what’s going on in the student’s life when they discipline that student. If the student suffers from bullying or homelessness or the death of a family member, that has an impact on their emotions and focus at school.

“We have to think about these societal issues that inevitably seep into classroom spaces. We don’t exist in a bubble or a vacuum and our students don’t exist in a bubble or a vacuum,” she said.

Renuka Mayadev, assistant vice president, Community Impact – Education at United Way of Central Ohio, said some progress has been made. Mayadev pointed to new laws in Ohio that provide clearer roles and better training for school resource officers and have curtailed harsh legal action against persistently truant students.

“Now, through this law, we are asking our school districts to take time to look at what’s going on with the family when a child is chronically truant,” she said.

Kirwan Institute Senior Legal Analyst Kyle Strickland said part of the solution comes from understanding the problem. He pointed out that the Kirwan Institute offers a free online implicit bias training series tailored specifically toward primary school educators. The institute has developed a mapping program that highlights racial disparities of school punishment across the state.

“It’s hard to take the time and look individually at a student and then try and look at the whole picture. But that’s where we all come in, because this is not all on educators,” he said. “This is a problem that requires all hands on deck. That includes attorneys, advocates, doctors and all sorts of folks. We have to address this problem and it’s not somebody else’s problem.”