When school discipline means getting locked up

It’s always in the back of my mind. Like, dang, they really took your kid to jail. That’s her and her little sister. First day of seventh grade. Trah’Vaeziah had been doing good, been having a wonderful year thus far. And then, all of a sudden, she was horseplaying in a hallway with another kid and the kid accidentally
ended up getting burned. Trah’Vaeziah Jackson got hot glue on a classmate’s arm during a school project. It was on accident because we were playing, running around and I was acting like I was going to touch him with the glue, and I guess he moved his arm and the stick touched his arm. They said it was an assault. Afterwords, they told me that I was going to juvie, and I went. What was it like? Like jail. How did you feel? Sad. Although the injured student’s family chose not to press charges, Trah’Vaeziah was arrested. Juvenile hall staff patted her down, cut off her hair extensions, and locked her up for three days. She served six more days of suspension, then 12 days in an alternative school. She had never been suspended
out of school before. All that was her punishment and she’s only 13 years old. What Trah’Vaeziah and her mother didn’t know was that the federal government had been investigating the Bryan schools for years, for racial bias in discipline. Around the country, black students in public schools are nearly four times as likely as white students to be suspended from school and twice as likely to be arrested. What we know from
research and data is that black children and Latino children are not more likely to actually misbehave. They are just more likely to be punished. And that’s really, really dangerous for students. Kids are less likely to graduate on time, they’re more likely to be held back, and they’re more likely to have contact with the justice system in the future. In 2013, Texas Appleseed and the NAACP’s Legal Defense Fund filed a complaint against the Bryan school district for disproportionately punishing black students. Under the Obama administration, closing the racial gap in school discipline was a top priority. Routine school discipline infractions should land a student in the principal’s office, not in a police precinct. By early 2017, the Education Department had found 10 cases in Bryan where black students were punished more harshly than white students for the same behavior, including two at Trah’Vaeziah’s middle school. Draft documents show the district was planning to change its disciplinary policies. But a few months later,
the Trump administration began to limit the scope of
civil rights investigations in schools around the country. You cut one million dollars from the office of Civil Rights. They’re able to do more with less. Madam Secretary, that’s not acceptable. That’s not acceptable when you look at the huge expulsion and suspension rates and what is taking place in terms of racial bias in our public schools. Eight months
into the Trump administration, the Education Department closed
the investigation in Bryan and abandoned the proposed reforms. It is so clear, both from the data and from the stories of the students and parents who are in that school district, that something inappropriate was and you can see, still is going on. Bryan’s superintendent of schools says the district complied with the federal investigation and no discrimination was found. She says the district is already implementing positive discipline interventions, hiring additional support staff, and increasing guidelines for parental involvement. Trah’Vaeziah’s a real good kid. She’s very smart, very outgoing. My daughter had to go through all that, you know, and be traumatized because she’s so afraid to do anything now, it’s like her whole mindframe
and everything has changed. Trah’Vaeziah is back in the alternative school for a second time. According to her mother, school surveillance video shows a classmate picked a fight with her. It’s just like jail. Horrible. It’s putting more pressure on me. You don’t do work like you do in school. You just do computers all day, eight hours. So she’s missing out on mainly all her basic English, language, writing, the math, you know, the real work that is
supposed to be given to her. School administrators now say Trah’Vaeziah may have
to repeat seventh grade. Students who are held back are up to six times more likely to drop out of school. I still, you know, get sad inside, because just looking at my daughter and looking at how pretty she is and how bright I want her to be for her future, it’s heartbreaking to know that you actually got locked up.

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