Recently the New Haven Board of Alders Education Committee held a public hearing on the issue of discipline in New Haven schools. Their specific concern was the disproportionate disciplinary actions in New Haven schools, involving minority and disabled students, many resulting in numerous suspensions, some involving police. However, this issue, affecting so many of our students, isn’t an inner-city problem. In neighboring Hamden, parents and advocates have met over the same issue, citing that statistically Hamden’s minority and disabled students had a greater chance of being subject to a disciplinary event involving police then in the city of New Haven.
Also, in Hamden, a group of parents have formed an ABAR (Anti Bias Anti-Racism) chapter at one of the town’s highly regarded elementary schools. One of their goals this year is to look at the school’s disciplinary practices.
Statewide, former Gov. Dannel Malloy’s veto of the SB 453, “classroom safety bill” also brought attention to this issue. Although supported by the teacher’s union, the General Assembly failed to override the veto thanks to the efforts of outside advocacy and parent groups, as well as experts including Connecticut’s Child Advocate, Sarah Eagan, and its Commissioner of Education, Dianna Wentzell.
Commissioner Wentzell stated the bill was flawed and would risk increasing the disproportionate disciplining and suspension of minority students in Connecticut. She bravely added that research showed that educators tend to assess behavior of same-race students more favorably than they would students of another race. She added implicit racial bias is real and the bill as written could exacerbate it.
Let’s hope that the increased concern of local groups, advocates and state officials, for the civil rights of minority and disabled students, will help free educators and their institutions from the personal and structural biases that have enabled them to ignore their students’ individuality and potential for far too long.
Janet Hutchins lives in Hamden.
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