School discipline, race data prompt Ballard's study plan

PHOTO: Alan Petersime

Federal data that rates Indiana one of the nation’s worst states for the disparity in discipline between black students and their classmates is strongly connected to concerns raised today by Mayor Greg Ballard about children and crime.

The goal of a study Ballard will commission is to look more closely at expulsion, suspension and dropout rates in Indianapolis schools, explore factors that influence those rates and determine why racial disparities and differences among schools exist.

The study is part of the mayor’s effort to understand how students who are put out of, or quit, school may careen toward criminal behavior under a broader effort to address the city’s growing problem of violent crime. But it also is partly a response to data released in March from the federal education and justice departments showing that American schools disproportionately discipline black students when compared to other racial and ethnic groups.

The federal data, collected during the 2011-12 school year, tracked and categorized suspension and expulsion for children as young as preschool. The findings from the Civil Rights Data Collection, which showed black children were disciplined more often nationally, held true for black students in Indianapolis and its suburbs.

The data “reveals particular concern around discipline for our nation’s young men and boys of color, who are disproportionately affected by suspensions and zero-tolerance policies in schools,” federal officials said in a statement in March. “Suspended students are less likely to graduate on time and more likely to be suspended again. They are also more likely to repeat a grade, drop out, and become involved in the juvenile justice system.”

The Equity Project at Indiana University corroborates such findings. It reports African American students are suspended two to three times more often than other students nationally. It also notes this disparity is highest in the suburbs and in elementary schools.

These notions are not new, in Indiana or across the country. A June 2000 study from the Indiana Education Policy Center focusing on 19 middle schools in an unnamed large Midwestern school district found that African American students were disproportionately represented in office referrals, suspension and expulsion. The center argues such evidence shows a systematic bias in how schools discipline black students.

In Marion County in 2013, 890 students were expelled from traditional schools, charter schools and turnaround academies, according to data provided by Ballard’s office. The most common reason for expulsion from a charter school and second most common reason in a traditional school was listed as “other.” Other common reasons included drugs, fighting and defiance.

The plan is for the Your Life Matters task force to present the findings from the commissioned study to a legislative study committee, which will explore whether changes need to be made on the state law for student discipline.

What's Your Education Story?

As the 2018 school year begins, join us for storytelling from Indianapolis educators

PHOTO: Dylan Peers McCoy/Chalkbeat
Sarah TeKolste, right, and Lori Jenkins at a Teacher Story Slam, in April.

In partnership with Teachers Lounge Indy, Chalkbeat is hosting another teacher story slam this fall featuring educators from across the city.

Over the past couple of years, Chalkbeat has brought readers personal stories from teachers and students through the events. Some of our favorites touched on how a teacher won the trust of her most skeptical student, why another teacher decided to come out to his students, and one educator’s call to ramp up the number of students pursuing a college education.

The event, 5:30 p.m. Thursday, Sept. 13, is free and open to the public — please RSVP here.

Event details:

5:30 p.m. to 7:30 p.m.
Thursday, Sept. 13, 2018
Tube Factory artspace
1125 Cruft St., Indianapolis, IN 46203
Get tickets here and find more on Facebook

More in What's Your Education Story?

School safety

Hiring more security officers in Memphis after school shootings could have unintended consequences

PHOTO: Jahi Chikwendiu/The Washington Post/Getty Images

Tennessee’s largest district, Shelby County Schools, is slated to add more school resource officers under the proposed budget for next school year.

Superintendent Dorsey Hopson earmarked $2 million to hire 30 school resource officers in addition to the 98 already in some of its 150-plus schools. The school board is scheduled to vote on the budget Tuesday.

But an increase in law enforcement officers could have unintended consequences.

A new state law that bans local governments from refusing to cooperate with federal immigration officials could put school resource officers in an awkward position.

Tennessee Education Commissioner Candice McQueen recently reminded school personnel they are not obligated to release student information regarding immigration status. School resource officers employed by police or sheriff’s departments, however, do not answer to school districts. Shelby County Schools is still reviewing the law, but school board members have previously gone on the record emphasizing their commitment to protecting undocumented students.

“Right now we are just trying to get a better understanding of the law and the impact that it may have,” said Natalia Powers, a district spokeswoman.

Also, incidents of excessive force and racial bias toward black students have cropped up in recent years. Two white Memphis officers were fired in 2013 after hitting a black student and wrestling her to the ground because she was “yelling and cussing” on school grounds. And mothers of four elementary school students recently filed a lawsuit against a Murfreesboro officer who arrested them at school in 2016 for failing to break up a fight that occurred off-campus.

Just how common those incidents are in Memphis is unclear. In response to Chalkbeat’s query for the number and type of complaints in the last two school years, Shelby County Schools said it “does not have any documents responsive to this request.”

Currently, 38 school resource officers are sheriff’s deputies, and the rest are security officers hired by Shelby County Schools. The officers respond and work to prevent criminal activity in all high schools and middle schools, Hopson said. The 30 additional officers would augment staffing at some schools and for the first time, branch out to some elementary schools. Hopson said those decisions will be based on crime rates in surrounding neighborhoods and school incidents.

Hopson’s initial recommendation for more school resource officers was in response to the school shooting in Parkland, Florida, that killed 17 people and sparked a wave of student activism on school safety, including in Memphis.

Gov. Bill Haslam’s recent $30 million budget boost would allow school districts across Tennessee to hire more law enforcement officers or improve building security. Measures to arm some teachers with guns or outlaw certain types of guns have fallen flat.

For more on the role and history of school resource officers in Tennessee, read our five things to know.

Sheriff’s deputies and district security officers meet weekly, said Capt. Dallas Lavergne of the Shelby County Sheriff’s Office. When the Memphis Police Department pulled their officers out of school buildings following the merger of city and county school systems, the county Sheriff’s Office replaced them with deputies.

All deputy recruits go through school resource officer training, and those who are assigned to schools get additional annual training. In a 2013 review of police academies across the nation, Tennessee was cited as the only state that had specific training for officers deployed to schools.