Officials with Alexandria City Public Schools have done a lot in recent years to improve the performances of its students since the appointment of Superintendent Alvin Crawley, from curriculum improvement and better practices for English language learners to the consolidation of middle schools and the planned centralized pre-kindergarten facility.
But according to local policy and activism group Tenants and Workers United, there is still plenty of work to be done in the area of student discipline. According to a report published by the organization last month, black students at T.C. Williams are nine times more likely to be suspended from school than their white counterparts, and Latino students are four times more likely to be sent home.
To be fair, the overuse of suspensions, and racial disparities in the meting out of discipline in schools is a national problem. According to the University of California Los Angeles’ Civil Rights Project, nationwide, 23.2 percent of black middle and high school students had been suspended during the 2011-2012 school year, compared to only 6.7 percent of white students.
While disparities in how students are disciplined are an issue of fairness and equity, it also impacts punished students’ academic success. Quite simply, if students are suspended from school, they aren’t learning.
ACPS officials already are working to improve suspension rates in city public schools, and are in the midst of a five-year plan to train staff and adopt a restorative justice approach to student discipline.
Restorative practices mean fewer students would be suspended, and instead teachers would work with students to repair harm caused by their negative behavior and build relationships between the student and teacher, which can reduce repeat offenses.
Schools officials should be lauded for the fact that T.C. Williams has a lower suspension rate — 4.2 percent for all students and 7.9 percent for black students — than many other school districts in Virginia, where suspension rates can reach as high as 22 percent for all students. But they must move quickly to address the problem further.
Moving away from suspensions means students will be less likely to repeatedly misbehave and since they remain in school, will be more likely to succeed academically. This is true for black students, white students and Latino students alike.
ACPS should try to accelerate its timeline for training faculty and implementing restorative practice policies in any way it can. Officials should take TWU’s recommendations to heart, and seek to implement them when feasible.
It’s not just about fairness and justice, it’s about helping students to achieve.