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Indy NAACP education leader's discipline position is off the mark

Current Events & News, Parent & Family Engagement, Teachers & Principals | 07/18/2016

Carole Craig
Former local NAACP education leader 2007-15

Craig is a retired school administrator, former local NAACP education leader and an educational consultant.

I was shocked to hear that a leader of the NAACP last week made statements calling for harsher punishment for our students, including our minority children, in IPS. These comments are totally against the NAACP position on the subject of student suspensions. This is quite embarrassing.

As a lifetime member of the NAACP and a former Education Committee leader for the local NAACP, I can assure everyone that the statements are not a reflection of our oldest civil rights organization, the NAACP. In fact, the NAACP has had a resolution against zero-tolerance policies since 2012, when it published a report Finding Our Way – Back to First: Reclaiming World Leadership by Educating All America’s Children that included best practices for reducing suspensions of black students.

Readers can refer to the 2010 Education Resolution No. 8:Federal & Local Efforts to Eliminate Zero Tolerance and Discipline Disparities on the national NAACP website for detail on this subject.

The U.S. Civil Rights department had a special advisory commission, through their Chicago office, hold hearings in Indiana because the data indicated Indiana was a problematic state – we had the second worst suspensions of black males in the nation. During these hearings, multiple people testified throughout the day and in two conference calls regarding the efforts to eliminate the school-to-prison pipeline in Indiana.  

The recent “Your Life Matters” report for the city of Indianapolis was developed for this very reason. As a result of that report, we now have the OpportunIndy initiative to find ways to support the community in eliminating the barriers which have caused so many of our youth to be disconnected from our education system. One of the biggest barriers verified by the data in the report was the excessive and disproportionate number of suspensions for non-violent student misbehaviors.

The majority of these suspensions given to black students, are for the subjective category of "other," yet the speech given last week complained that administrators have to fill out extensive paperwork when suspending a student. That’s the least they should do.

According to the U.S. Department of Education’s recently-released Civil Rights Data Collection, black students nationwide are almost four times as likely to be suspended as white students. How much more disparate treatment of one particular ethnic group can you have?

Maybe in making these statements, the NAACP representative was feeling pressure from teachers at some schools, who have not received resources and training to prevent and intervene when these misbehaviors occur. There cannot be chaotic classrooms. In order to prevent that, the school has to have a strong Positive Behavioral Intervention and Supports (PBIS) school-wide positive behavior program in place. This is what the district has promoted.

Rather than attack IPS’ leadership for the policy, the local NAACP education leadership should request a seat at the table, along with the rest of us as community leaders, and participate in the conversations about how to support and improve implementation.

Again, the problem is not in the code. This Code, while not perfect, allows the school to use a tiered approach which would allow proper services and consequences for those students that have emotional and behavioral challenges. Years of research show that suspensions are not appropriate for these students in that it leads to more school disengagement; and eventually, to these at-risk students dropping out of school and onto a path to the criminal justice system.

Black students are most impacted because of the failure to address cultural mismatch, social emotional learning, implicit biases, and trauma-informed care.  

Yes, this IPS discipline code is quite a cultural shift for a district that has relied so heavily on punitive measures. Saying that these new policies “spared the rod,” was inappropriate and against national NAACP guidance.

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