An Open Letter to JCPS Board Member, Linda Duncan

 

At the February 11, 2020 JCPS Board Meeting, Board Member Linda Duncan said, in reference to the district’s efforts to reduce disproportionality in discipline rates:

“Somebody needs to prove that people do things in proportionate numbers, proportionate to the percent of the population that their group represents…I feel like we’re focused so much on decreasing the numbers that appear in disproportionality that we’re not focused on the behaviors that have been identified…We get so wrapped up in worrying about well we’ve got to make these numbers look better, we’re not looking at what the kids are doing. You know the kid that chooses to choke somebody on the bus or threaten somebody on a bus..that’s a behavior that gets reported. Then what we do with that behavior is the important part…It’s just a shame that somehow or other there’s this notion that everyone does things proportionate to the group they belong to. You can’t prove it. If we did that with our basketball teams, they would look entirely different than what they look like right now. If we said, oh well African Americans are only 37% of the population so therefore our basketball teams should only be 37% of the population.”

Dear Ms. Duncan,

As a JCPS parent who lives in your district, I have serious concerns about the remarks you made at last night’s board meeting. It is not acceptable for a board member to suggest that black students misbehave at higher rates than other students with absolutely no data to back up that statement. Such statements perpetuate racial stereotypes that have no basis in fact and have dangerous consequences for our black students.

But even beyond that, I find it disturbing that a member of our board of education has such a lack of understanding of an important issue in education – disproportionality in student discipline. You stated that the district needed to focus on behavior, not numbers. What you failed to recognize is that we cannot just look at student behavior, we must also look at the behavior of teachers and administrators and how their behavior plays into disproportionality in student discipline.

If you had done even a little research on the topic before speaking, you might have found information like these pieces I found by simply googling disproportionality in school discipline:

  • “Research suggests that when given an opportunity to choose among several disciplinary options for a relatively minor offense, teachers and school administrators often choose more severe punishment for Black students than for White students for the same offense. For example, in the 2008-2009 academic year, Black students in North Carolina public schools were suspended at rates significantly higher than White students: eight times higher for cell phone use, six times higher for dress code violation, two times higher for disruptive behavior, and 10 times higher for displays of affection (Losen, 2010).”[1]
  • A recent study done by a doctoral student and a professor at University of California Berkeley found that “The principals and assistant principals rated the same misbehavior by black students as more severe than the white students’ misbehavior. The black students were more likely to be seen as troublemakers and were on average given more days’ suspension. A first offense by black students was on average rated 20% more severely than that by white students, and a second offense 29% more severely. Black students were given more severe discipline than white students for the same offense, and principals and assistant principals were more likely to view them as “troublemakers.”[2]
  • “Several studies have looked at the relationship between race, behavior, and suspension, and none have them have proven that black students misbehave at higher rates. A study in 2002found that white students were more likely to be disciplined for provable, documentable offenses — smoking, vandalism, and obscene language — while black students were more likely to be disciplined for more subjective reasons, such as disrespect.”[3]

So no, Ms. Duncan, the district is not simply concerned with “making the numbers look better.” It is attempting to ensure that all students are treated equitably by teachers and administrators. It is concerned not only with student behavior, but how the adults’ behavior in schools negatively impacts our children – particularly children of color.

In your statement above you illustrate why this work by the district is necessary – because there are teachers and administrators in our schools who actually believe as you do – that black students misbehave more and are more violent than other students. So they discipline them more harshly.

In his article on racial disproportionality in school discipline, Thomas Rudd had this to say about the damage attitudes such as yours does to students, “At the Kirwan Institute, our research suggests that implicit bias is implicated in every aspect of racial and ethnic inequality and injustice. One of most powerful consequences of implicit racial bias is that it often robs us of a sense of real compassion for and connection to individuals and groups who suffer the burdens of racial inequality and injustice in our society. So, for example, many policy makers and voters feel that people of color who are isolated in segregated low opportunity communities in our major metropolitan areas are just getting “what they deserve.” In each of us, implicit bias contributes to the development of an unconscious “hierarchy of caring” that influences who we care about and what groups and individuals are beyond our caring, in a place of invisibility or disposability.”[4]

Our students deserve board members who understand the issues the district is seeking to address, and who do not hold racist attitudes and beliefs. They deserve better than the racism and lack of knowledge you exhibited in your remarks last night. Please resign.

Sincerely,

Cindy Cushman
JCPS Parent in District 5

[1] Rudd, Thomas (2014). “Racial Disproportionality in School Discipline: Implicit Bias is Heavily Implicated.” Kiwanis Institute for the Study of Race and Ethnicity. http://kirwaninstitute.osu.edu/racial-disproportionality-in-school-discipline-implicit-bias-is-heavily-implicated/

[2] Arends, Bret. (2019) “Black Children are More Likely to Be Disciplined Than White Kids for the Same Behavior.” Market Watch.  https://www.marketwatch.com/story/black-children-are-more-likely-to-be-disciplined-than-white-kids-for-the-same-behavior-2019-10-16

[3] [3] Nelson, L. & Lind, D. 2015. The School to Prison Pipeline, Explained. http://www.justicepolicy.org/mobile/news/8775

[4] [4] Rudd, Thomas (2014). “Racial Disproportionality in School Discipline: Implicit Bias is Heavily Implicated.” Kiwanis Institute for the Study of Race and Ethnicity. http://kirwaninstitute.osu.edu/racial-disproportionality-in-school-discipline-implicit-bias-is-heavily-implicated/

 

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