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Ten school districts, charters enter into agreements with Minnesota Department of Human Rights over discipline disparities

The Dignity In Schools Campaign held a rally Thursday morning
MinnPost photo by Erin Hinrichs
School discipline reform advocates held a rally Thursday morning, voicing support for the Minnesota Department of Human Rights' investigation to hold schools accountable for disproportionately disciplining students of color.

On Thursday, the state Department of Human Rights provided its first official update on the investigation it launched into exclusionary discipline practices — suspensions and expulsions — that disproportionately impact students of color and those with disabilities.

This past fall, the department presented a total of 43 school districts and charter schools with a choice: enter into an agreement with the department to come up with a plan to address these disparities, or face litigation. Specifically, they’re focusing on reducing disparities in discipline for non-violent offenses — a category that includes things like swearing, eye rolling and other actions that could be deemed insubordinate or disruptive.

According to the state Department of Human Rights, five school districts have chosen to enter into an agreement: the Bloomington Public Schools district, the Cass Lake-Bena School district, Mankato Area Public Schools, the North St. Paul-Maplewood-Oakdale School District, and Robbinsdale Area Schools.

Charter schools make up the rest of the list: Best Academy in Minneapolis, Dugsi Academy Charter School in St. Paul, Mastery Academy Charter School in Minneapolis, Prairie Seeds Academy in Brooklyn Park, and St. Paul City School.

“These leaders are not alone with dealing with these disparities — but they are the first to stand up, lean in and drive toward solutions,” MDHR Commissioner Kevin Lindsey said in the press release. “Kids simply can’t learn if they are not in school. These agreements are a crucial step in ensuring we are doing all we can to help Minnesota students develop their interpersonal and learning skills so they can thrive.”

So far, the Department has filed charges against two districts: the St. Louis Park Public Schools district and the Walker-Hackensack-Akeley School District.

When reached for comment Thursday afternoon, Sara Thompson, a spokesperson for the St. Louis Park district said the district is, in fact, “seeking to enter into an agreement” with the Department. 

In a follow up interview, Lindsey said that in light of this information, he's “hopeful we can, in a short period of time, reach an agreement with them,” adding that even after charges are filed, his department “never closes the opportunity to reach some type of agreement, short of completing its investigation.”

As of late Thursday afternoon, a spokesperson for the Walker-Hackensack-Akeley School District could not be reached for comment.

The Department is continuing negotiations with the remaining school districts and charter schools, and “anticipates announcing another round of agreements in the coming week,” according to the press release the Department sent out this afternoon.

In an interview, Lindsey added that he and his staff have been in ongoing conversations with several other school leaders that he expects will soon materialize into agreements once they’ve had an opportunity to get approval from their respective school boards.

Board approvals pending, he says, “for all intents and purposes, the districts and the Department have an agreement” at this point.

For districts and charters that have chosen to enter into a collaborative agreement with the Department, all have submitted three-year plans (available here) that outline the specific strategies they’ll be implementing. These strategies include a broad range of things like professional development trainings to help educators address the “implicit bias that influences perceptions of student behavior” and ways to increase student and community engagement.

state Department of Human Rights
MinnPost photo by Erin Hinrichs
According to the state Department of Human Rights, five school districts have chosen to enter into an agreement.

For instance, according to the agreement submitted by the North St. Paul-Maplewood-Oakdale School District, the district will be providing professional development with a focus on things like culturally responsive teaching practices and trauma-informed care, and reforming behavior response protocol to include things like restorative circles at every school site. It’ll also be monitoring its progress in reducing discipline disparities by reviewing  suspension data broken down by race and special education status each month with school leaders and each year with the school board. Lastly, the district will look to enhance hiring practices aimed at recruiting and retaining more teachers of color.

“As we work to eliminate disparate outcomes for students, we are pleased to collaborate with the MDHR and area districts to share best practices and elevate student voice,” said Christine Osorio, the district’s superintendent.

Disciplinary incidents that involve a safety concern, as well as those that involve the possession of a weapon or illegal drugs, are not subject to the agreements. Rather, the Department directed school districts and charters to focus on “finding alternatives to suspensions for challenges such as disorderly and disruptive behavior, verbal abuse and other non-violent offenses” — the categories that more than a third of all suspensions and expulsions fall under every year.

These numbers are stored in the state’s Discipline Incident Reporting System. This data system has been the backbone of the department’s investigation. In reviewing this publicly reported data, the Department found that students of color comprise 31 percent of the population, yet receive 66 percent of all suspensions and expulsions. African American students suspended at a rate eight times that of their white peers. For Native American students, the disparity was even greater. Students with disabilities make up 14 percent of the population, yet receive 43 percent of all suspension and expulsions.

In addition to submitting an action plan, those who enter into an agreement with the Department that’ll be in effect through 2021 are bound to a number of other accountability measures. These include participation in a Diversion Committee created as a support hub where districts and charters can share best practices and an expectation that districts and charters will seek community feedback on this work.

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Comments (23)

Just wondering

…if school districts are being held responsible – as perhaps they should be – for disparate responses and policies regarding what is basically disruptive behavior, at what point will the parents and/or guardians of the disruptive children be similarly held responsible for the misbehavior of those children? And, of course, what should not be overlooked is the responsibility of the child for her/his own disruptive behavior and/or language?

The State Department of Human Rights is coming down pretty hard on these school districts without, it seems to me, doing much to address the other responsible parties. When I'm having to spend 15 minutes dealing with a disruptive child in a culturally sensitive manner, how will the other dozens of children in my overcrowded classroom make up for that 15 minutes of lost instruction? The state may have a plan to address this quite legitimate concern, but there's nothing about that in Erin's article. I certainly agree that suspension isn't going to benefit the child being suspended, but insisting that any alternative methods be devised by the school district puts an inordinate burden on that district without any commensurate attention being directed at that child's family – presumably the "first responder' resource for discipline – and little but vague platitudes offered regarding the disruptive child herself.

As we've seen with the President, disruptive behavior and a refusal to observe established behavioral norms have widespread and long-standing negative effects. At some point, not addressed in the comments from state officials, the student has to be held responsible for her own behavior, and if that behavior is disruptive, it's the student that has to change, not the institutions of society. When I was a practitioner, neither I nor the people with whom I worked were rigid disciplinarians, but a certain level of decorum has to be maintained if a class is to learn something beyond "Johnny is a jerk," or, more politely, "Johnny has behavioral issues."

This makes no sense

I’m all in for finding better ways to help students learn. But if a student ( of any race or gender ) is disruptive they need to be shown the door. If I’m reading this correctly, a verbally abusive student should not be suspended. What? So every kid who knows the policy can pretty much do or say whatever to their teacher.
I am sick and tired of political correctness. Bad behavior should get you suspended. I don’t care what color or race you are. And just for giggles, what is an example of a culturally responsive teaching practice? Saying the words “stop it or you’re out the door”crosses all racial and ethnic lines.
If this passes, you’re going to have a difficult time retaining good teachers. Really, you are. Where’s the outrage from the parents of the good kids?

Agreed Kind Of

Betsy,
I understand and agree with your comments.

However I also understand school is the last chance for many poor minority children with questionable to terrible lives at home. And though I think many of the claims of racism are over stated. I do agree that some people will treat a boisterous Black boy more aggressively than if he was White with forceful supportive parents.

The Coming GOP majority

A few years ago a conversation with a neighbor captured the essence of this issue. My neighbor is a well-educated senior executive, and the family is fairly religious, every Sunday churchgoers. Their faith teaches them that racism is sin, which the parents have instilled in their kids. As the father told me, one day the older, middle-aged school kid asked him out of the blue: "Why is it that all the loud kids in school are black?" By loud he meant disruptive.

That black Americans suffered longstanding and systematic racial discrimination is beyond all doubt. But the idea that public schools in the Twin Cities metro are hotbeds of racist mistreatment defies logic. All teachers and administrators have been through umpteen racial sensitivity courses in college, in professional continuing education, and at their workplaces. A large majority of K-12 Edworld votes straight Democratic and holds liberal views on almost all important issues. What makes all those liberal teachers into racists in their classrooms?

Everyone outside the bubble of political correctness knows who is causing most (not all) of the behavior problems in public schools. That everyone includes many thousands of black parents who have taken their kids out of traditional public schools and into charter or private schools - because of their fears for their kids' educations, and even more, fears for their physical safety.

The Social Justice Warriors at the Department of Human Rights and in the DFL perceive themselves as morally superior to anyone who disagrees with their assertions about racial disparities in how misbehavior is dealt with. But if this policy results in a noticeable increase in chronic behavior problems in public schools - and it will - by 2022 the DFL will be in the minority in Minnesota. Suburban Democrats will proudly flaunt their Obama/Bernie/With Her bumper stickers, and they'll say all the PC things at social events, but in the privacy of the voting booth they won't stand for their kids' educations being wrecked by troublemakers whom the administrators won't or can't deal with. Beware, DFL: most of your voters aren't Mark Dayton types who can escape these problems by sending their kids to expensive private schools.

Discipline

“Kids simply can’t learn if they’re not in school”

And kids simply can’t learn if kids are allowed to disrupt class. The difference is one kid doesn’t learn vs every kid not learning. If the solution to the disparity is to stop disciplining disruptive kids, then this is a joke.

St. Paul

St. Paul public schools went through a period a few years back where they tried to fix the racial discipline disparity by not disciplining students for their disruptive behavior. The result, unsurprisingly, was pure chaos. Having kids in SPPS at the time, I saw just how terribly this went.

The teachers took matters into their own hands, replaced most of the school board, fired the superintendent, and gave themselves back the power to control their own classrooms. And things got a lot better.

I’m not sure if people understand what disruptive behavior means in these cases. The fact its not violent doesn’t mean its benign. Its bullying. Its sexual harassment. Its yelling and swearing and throwing thins, and literally preventing the entire class from doing anything. Its shutting down the learning experience for a whole room full of kids.

And while the kids getting suspended are disproportionately black, many of the kids there to learn are black too. Are we advancing racial equity by keeping one disruptive kid in class, while destroying the educational experience for 10 other black kids?

If you can show that the discipline is being meted out unfairly, then fix that. But any attempt to fix disproportionate numbers by ignoring bad behavior won’t fix anything.

Perhaps We Need to Give These Kids More Guidance?

We still haven't recovered from Tim Pawlenty's years of reductions in school funding,...

with the result that Minnesota continues to have one of the highest student to Guidance Counselor ratios in the nation.

Lots of these kids have trouble in school because they come from troubled homes.

We simply CANNOT expect teachers to make up the difference when a child walks in the door of their classroom already deep in emotional turmoil because of what happened at home in the past few hours (if they even have a home).

Rather than pretending that if we just stop being mean to kids who are causing trouble in class, those kids will magically do better in school,...

is really Republican-style magical thinking.

What will happen, instead, is that the REST of the kids in those classrooms will do worse.

What we really need are more Guidance Counselors and other helpers,...

so that the kids whose lives are really a mess away from school get the help they need,...

to be stable and reasonable in the classroom DESPITE the craziness that fills their lives away from school,...

but of course that would require funding,...

something our Republican-led legislature simply can't wrap their heads or hearts around providing.

Closing the Barn Doors

I agree that more counselors may help some. However to me it is a bit like closing the barn doors after the horses have escaped.

My question is how do we as a society stop parents from failing their children in the first place? Their is no excuse that every child does not come to school kindergarten ready.

A reader left me this excellent link. I think these base competencies should be modeled by parents and therefore the children will have good habits before they start school.
https://casel.org/core-competencies/

Instead of the schools having to undo bad self destructive habits.

Schools already know what needs to happen

Most school districts already know what changes need to take place within their buildings to address discipline disparities. Culturally competent programming for starters, acknowledges the life realities of students who may struggle in school. By meeting students where they're at in terms of intact skills and readiness to handle the psychsocial requirements of navigating disparities between what they must do to survive outside of school and what they are expected to do to be successful in school, building administrators can do alot to circumvent the negative cycles of behavior that derail classroom progress. Rather than insisting on a 'one size fits all' approach that can never actually meet the needs of students outside of that middle third, we can appreciate that students are kids and from history and well, all existing evidence, will have individual ways of managing and coping with all of the things they cannot control because they're minors and we consistently fail as a community to acknowledge their needs as kids in an unforgiving world. When good teachers have resources and support, the constant assessing they do as part of their classroom management and pedagogy, (especially when they aren't derailed by standardized tests that are of value to no one), lets them know when particular students need something more or different. When they are allowed to get to know their students, they are able to give individual students what they need to traverse the distance between home, the community and school and more students succeed. That's literally what good educators do, irrelevant of curicula and programming and the latest trends too many districts consistently follow down rabbitholes-they fnd out how their students learn and they facilitate that learning. Pedagogy in education is the only realm where people with literally no education or experience with it (legislators, business people, MBA's, etc) consistently insist they know how to make students suscessful-they'll even test them to show you! And still years and years on, we're still struggling with disciplne and achievement because we can't just let teachers do what they're trained to do and have been successful at whenever we don't starve achools for resources. Schools and teachers know what to do; it's the interlopers who sabotage student success. And NO! school is nothing like it was when you were in school so please save your breath.

Nothing New

Now I agree that there has been a HUGE Demographic shift in the schools. I had left some links here to demonstrate that but they apparently did not make the cut.

However we must also understand that things weren't working for millions of students pre-NCLB. They were passed through the system without adequate learning. So the idea that everything will be fine if we just trust the Teachers and Public System seems naïve.

As one Teacher explained it to me... It was better to let the 5 trouble makers sleep in class than to have them awake and disturbing the learning of the other 25 students. Now that seems perfectly rational to me, however leaving those 5 behind can not be the answer.

Maybe they will let me have this one link and you can click through the slides. :-)
http://www.pewsocialtrends.org/2016/06/27/1-demographic-trends-and-econo...

Wow...

It's kind of interesting to see so many comments that assume all this disparate "disciplining" is justified. "How is a poor teacher to deal with disruptive behavior?" and "What about the parents?"

The issue isn't disruptive behavior; why is it more "disruptive" when a black student or a Native American student rolls their eyes that it is if a white student rolls their eyes? How did something like eye rolling even get classified as disruptive behavior in the first place? You gotta be kidding me. Listen: I hate to say it but if teachers have the time and resources to discipline eye rolls... I'm flat out of sympathy. Every teacher should be way way too busy providing instruction to even notice whether or not a kid is rolling their eyes, much less take time out to "discipline" that behavior somehow.

As a St. Louis Park resident I will be going to the next school board meeting, and I will be demanding answers as to why these disparities exist, why the city isn't addressing them, and what they intend to do to resolve the problem. Discipline disparity isn't the only issue in SLP, we also have sizable racial learning gap as well, and this is just not acceptable.

Eye Rolling

I think you need to spend more time in the public schools you promote. We all wish it was just about eye rolling.

http://alphanewsmn.com/safety-concerns-arise-as-violence-continues-to-es...

MPS Facts and Data

MPS has an interesting site that describes the reasons for student discipline. Follow the link and then select behaviors.

http://www.mpls.k12.mn.us/data_behavior

SLP Policy

Eye rolling

Eye rolling is not the problem. Its unfortunate that eye rolling got included in that list, but the disruptive behavior is much more serious than that.

John...

None of your links have anything whatsoever to do with racial disparity. No one anywhere is suggesting we allow classrooms to descend into undisciplined chaos... that's simply not the issue. If you're going to go on these fact finding missions, don't you think you should try to locate relevant facts?

Ah

I don't think this has as much to do with race as it has to do with incapable, irresponsible, emotionally immature, neglectful and/or over whelmed parents.

When the child does not come to kindergarten with basic knowledge, good social skills, normal neurological development, etc there will be more problems.

The only way it ties to race is that there is a much greater percentage of poor young single parent households in certain population groups.
http://www.pewsocialtrends.org/2016/06/27/1-demographic-trends-and-econo...

Now if we want to fix the real problem. This means fixing the home life of the children.

Yeah, and that a racist assumption

"I don't think this has as much to do with race as it has to do with incapable, irresponsible, emotionally immature, neglectful and/or over whelmed parents."

Well since the children being disproportionately disciplined are black children, you're assumption dictates that these bad parents must be black parents. Given the absolute absence of any data or information that supports THAT assumption, it's a racist assumption. You're assuming without any evidence (beyond an anecdote about a white kid who comes home and asks his white dad why the black kids are so disruptive) that black kids are in fact more disruptive than other kids.

Yes, I can see that conservatives and libertarians rely heavily on the work of Charles Murray (The Bell Curve) and his latest book: "Coming Apart : The State of White America, 1960-2010" but it's important to remember that Murray is an architect of institutional racism, and always has been. His primary thesis is that the problem with "white" American's is that they are acting too much like black people. All these population stats that you guys keep pointing to are the bulk of Murray's "analysis". The problem is Murray is a intellectual fraud who has always promoted correlation as causation.

Actually

I am making some assumptions, but they having nothing to do with race. I am assuming that the children who have fewer behavioral issues:
- have 2 parents at home who model an effective loving relationship
- live in a stable furnished home and stay in the same school for years at a time
- have parent(s) who are not stressed out over jobs, money, etc
- have educated parent(s) who can develop their capabilities in the pre-k years
- have educated parent(s) who can be the advocate and mentor the child
- have parents who did not smoke, drink, do drugs, live in a home with lead paint, etc.

Unfortunately that means that children from young single parent poorly educated financially struggling households will have more behavioral issues... Does that make sense?

We're talking about children of color

If you're claiming that all of these characteristics are equally distributed among white parents and parents of color, you have to explain why black children respond to these home environments by being more disruptive than white kids. Or you have to concede that kids of color are no more disruptive than white kids, in which case racial profiling can be the only explanation for the disparate discipline they receive.

Again, the "data" you will keep pointing to documents trends that identify more parents of color as those with the characteristics you have listed, that fact clearly documents a racial association. Your claims to be color blind in this regard are simply facile.

Meanwhile, all you've done is select out some of many factors that can contribute to problematic behavior. This is not a complete and comprehensive list of possibilities, but it IS a list that more parents of color than white parents will qualify for, and that's not an accident or a product of rigorous academic study. Like Murray, you start with a conclusion and work backwards. In this case, it's a racist conclusion.

Correlation

Yet if you want unlucky kids to get in trouble less often it starts with improving their home life and early childhood experiences. No matter their race.

Just lowering the behavior expections based on skin color helps no one.

Skin color?

We expect everyone to behave properly, and assume they can do so regardless of skin color. This is why holding children of color to a different standard (not a lower standard) is a problem if that same standard is not being applied to everyone. The reason these letters went out is because it's the white kids from your ideal homes who are being given a lower standard, not the other way round. Privilege lowers standards, it doesn't raise them.

Ah

From what I have seen of their analysis, I am not convinced that "white kids from your ideal homes who are being given a lower standard".

Usually the headline reads that "minority students are being suspended / expelled at a higher rate than white students, and this is not fair"... Therefore we need to address this inequity.

Now if they are being treated unequally that is one thing. However if this another "people need to be treated equally even though they behave differently"... That is quite another.

I'll do some more reading when I have time.