Last Tuesday night at an NAACP school board candidate forum at Messiah Missionary Baptist Church, NAACP education chair Larry Yarrell took the time to bash IPS again. Mr. Yarrell, a former IPS principal, complained about IPS’ new Student Code of Conduct, which he said “spared the rod” and provided “minimal punishment” to students.
As a parent who has an African-American son in IPS schools, I was shocked and dismayed to hear this. The new code of conduct was necessary to fight back against the real epidemic of our African-American students, especially young black boys, being suspended at higher rates than every other student demographic.
Data shows that a child being out of school for numerous days negatively impacts that child’s education. We should be talking more about how to reduce suspensions and keep students in school and give them the academic support they need. It takes two days of school for a child to simply make up one day of missed class.
Instead Mr. Yarrell implied that IPS should suspend more Black kids more often. Mr. Yarrell complained about the punishment for students who showed disrespect. He said, “they can be disrespectful to each other and basically all they will receive is at most . . . a three-day out of school suspension.”
Let me understand this -- a three-day suspension for being “disrespectful” isn’t harsh enough? What does Mr. Yarrell want to see? Our young Black boys being expelled for having a smart mouth? Does he want weeks-long suspensions for every kid who talks back to an adult?
I was one of those kids that had a smart mouth with my teachers, but I had some amazing teachers that would tell me to “sit my tail-end” down anytime I got out of hand. They kept me in school so my learning could continue. Our methods to support and discipline children now cannot only be putting children out of school because it will not solve any problems. In fact, it will only support the widening of the achievement gap in our schools.
Mr. Yarrell, who’s never run a school under the new code of conduct, also said that “administrators have indicated that if they suspend a child for a two-day suspension they have to write up an extensive justification for the suspension.”
What’s wrong with that, Mr. Yarrell? Would you rather students, particularly Black students, continue to be suspended at higher and higher rates, and that administrators not be accountable for explaining why these students are being put out of school? We’re coming from a system where suspensions were being handed out like candy with no justification, and now the NAACP is complaining about school leaders having to actually explain why a child should be sent home?
As a parent in IPS, I can say the new IPS discipline policy has been imperfect, and certainly the implementation in year one has been challenging. If the NAACP is willing to end their call for suspending more children and actually seek solutions, I’d challenge them to join the discussion of improving implementation of the student code of conduct in IPS.
But to attack the policy itself as weak on our Black students? And to come at that position from the place of a civil rights organization that claims to care about the extreme inequities that already exist in our urban schools? The positions Mr. Yarrell and the NAACP have taken are not only shocking but also dangerous if they were ever to be implemented in IPS.