Stand with students to end discipline disparities

Recently, an analysis by the Minnesota Department of Human Rights revealed a troubling trend: Minnesota is worst in the country for discipline disparities by race in our schools. Students of color comprise 31 percent of Minnesota’s student population and receive 66 percent of all suspensions and expulsions, according to the analysis.

The New York Times wrote about these findings over the weekend:

Nationally, black students are suspended three times as often as their white peers; in Minnesota, it is eight times as often. To explain this trend, officials here point to the rapid increase in the state’s minority population in the last decade, and the fact that the state has the largest poverty gap between blacks and whites in the nation.

Last month, the Minnesota Department of Human Rights notified 43 school districts and charter schools that suspension rates for nonviolent offenses still suggested widespread discriminatory practices.

“We’re at a tipping point, and that’s what you see in the schools” said Kevin Lindsey, the state’s human rights commissioner.

The school district is trying to engage students and educators in conversations, which they hope will help the situation.

“Our students for years have been publicly expressing that they want to be seen differently, be judged equitably,” said Michael Thomas, the chief of Minneapolis schools. “We’re still adjusting our listening frequency.

Listening to students and engaging with educators, parents, and community members is essential for understanding why this continues and how we can focus on solutions to end racist practices and disparities.

Brenda Cassellius, commissioner for the Minnesota Department of Education, provided some excellent context in her Star Tribune Op-Ed for why we need to work now to address these issues that have a grave impact on students’ futures.

Minnesota needs an educated, skilled population to ensure shared social and economic success. An education system that works for all students must be our highest priority, and the truth is that currently, school discipline practices are hindering too many of our children’s chances at academic and social success.

It doesn’t have to be this way. We can say: “Enough.” We can set high expectations for acceptable behavior in our classrooms. We can hold all students accountable for meeting them. We can defend our teachers’ ability to maintain orderly classrooms where all children can learn. And we can reject the fearmongering and racial resentments that Kersten and the Star Tribune inflame when they give divisive and hateful words column inches and oxygen.

At MnEEP, we are listening to student voices every day, and working with districts, educators, and policy makers to address these disparities. We know that an equitable education system is one that elevates the inherent dignity of all students. By providing training, developing discipline models, and changing policies and practices, we can ensure more equitable school systems and the future success of all students. It’s imperative that educational institutions shift from “fixing” student behavior to reforming policies and practices that encourage understanding and relationships that foster positive student engagement.

Learn more about one model, Solutions Not Suspensions, a campaign to end discipline disparities by redefining how schools perceive, interact with, and respond to the concerns of students of color and reframing how students view themselves, which empowers them and increases feelings of self-efficacy and connection to school.

And read more about other initiatives and partnerships at MnEEP aimed at ending disparities and ensuring all students receive the education they deserve.

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