Eliminate Racial Inequity in Student Discipline in Chapel Hill-Carrboro Schools

On June 20th a hearing was held at a Chapel Hill-Carrboro City Schools Board of Education meeting about the need to address racial inequities in how students are disciplined. As we gear up for another school year, I hope that efforts continue to be made to eliminate these inequities. Some activities have already begun. More and more of our neighbors are attending Undoing/Anti-Racism/Dismantling Racism workshops, and the CHCCS this summer held one of these workshops specifically for students and another that many staff attended. (Workshops will be held in the fall and are open to the public. For more information: Undoing Racism/Racial Equity Workshops in Chapel Hill; Dismantling Racism Workshops in Durham.)

A number of folks spoke at that June 20th hearing, including public defender James Williams, who shared these remarks:

Hi, my name is James Williams. I am public defender for Orange and Chatham counties. I come at this from a number of different angles, but one of the things and I’ve mentioned this numerous times: there’s this clear correlation between school failure and children not performing in school, and children and later adults ending up in the criminal justice system. We’re approaching, next year, the 60-year anniversary of Brown v. Board of Education. And Brown v. Board of Education was about equalized educational opportunity for all children. And discipline inequity, in my opinion, is a denial of equal education opportunity for children of color. And when you look at the data, your own data, it’s clear that there [are] significant racial disparities in how school discipline issues are handled in the Chapel Hill-Carrboro school system.

It doesn’t have to be that way. There are things that can be done and I think you’ve begun to attempt some of those things to alleviate and maybe even eliminate this disparity. I want to mention a few things that I think would help:

Number one, there needs to be a clear policy, which I don’t believe exists now, that says, unequivocally, that the elimination of discipline inequality is a policy of the Chapel Hill-Carrboro school system. That message needs to be clear. That message needs to be one that is received by schools, all schools, principals, and teachers. It should not be an option.

Number two, there needs to be an entity, whether that be your present Equity Team or some other entity, whose mission it is to review data that is obtained, whether it is through the PBIS system, that has that information related to discipline, disaggregated by race, that would review that and make sure that the appropriate officials, teachers, principals, review that data and take corrective action. Collecting the data and not having any sort of enforcement mechanism is virtually useless. And so I think those are a couple of things that are not happening now that I think should be included when we address this issue.

Victor Hugo, I’m going to quote from him, he says: “He who opens a school door closes a prison.” And the corollary to that, Victor didn’t say it, but I am: “He who closes a school door, opens a prison.” When you are suspending students you are suspending futures. So let’s not do it, except when it’s absolutely and totally necessary and all other alternatives have been thoroughly exhausted. Thank you.


During the same public comment period on school discipline, UNC law professor Barb Fedders made the comments below (with minor edits for clarity). Reminder: Barb will serve as the moderator of the OrangePolitics online candidate forum for the Chapel Hill-Carrboro school board on September 22."I am here as a parent of a rising first-grader. I am also here as an attorney and professor at the law school at UNC. We represent young people from schools in this district who have been charged with delinquency offenses in Orange County juvenile court."As others have said, punitive disciplinary policies that push students out of school and into the juvenile and criminal systems should be rejected. We appreciate this district’s ability to prepare students for college, and we urge the district to also ensure that each of its students graduates unencumbered by a criminal conviction that will forever imperil their chances of being productive citizens."I am here specifically today to urge the district to work to be a leader in informing students and their parents of their constitutional rights in schools, working to uphold them, and going beyond what are essentially minimal rights by implementing policies that fully protect our students. The US Supreme Court held in 1965 that students do not “shed their constitutional rights…at the schoolhouse gate.” Our students have rights to personal privacy that cannot be infringed without reasonable suspicion to believe that they are violating school rules or breaking the law. When subjected to custodial interrogation by school resource officers, students must be informed of their rights and must be permitted to remain silent."The treatment of our students has real-world and long-term consequences. As the district is likely aware, just a few years ago, in a case that arose in this district at Smith Middle School, the US Supreme Court held for the first time that the age of a child does matter in the legal determination of whether a person is in fact ‘in custody.’"However, the district should go above and beyond this minimal legal protection to fully protect our students. The law requires only that parents be informed and present during custodial interrogation by police for children under the age of 14. But the district should implement a policy that parents should be told in advance about any police questioning of their children, whether it is custodial or not. When parents are not available, school administrators should act in loco parentis to protect the rights of students."Students must not be punished by school administrators when they assert their constitutional rights to remain silent in the presence of police or school administrators. It is my understanding that at least some of the schools have codes of conduct that penalize students for remaining silent when they are being questioned, which obviously presents a conflict for the student who may be trying to protect himself or herself in the face of police questioning."These policies will help all students and families feel invested in and valued by the school community. They will also teach students first-hand about the rights and responsibilities that come from participating in our democracy. Teaching and learning about freedom and justice should not happen only in civics class, but day to day in the experiences of students, in the corridors, the entranceways, and the principal’s office."When we ignore or trample on the rights of our young people, we are sending a message to them that they are expendable, a message they will keep for the rest of their lives."

Thanks for posting these excellent comments by James Williams and Barb Fedders.  “Produce your own dream. If you want to save Peru, go save Peru. It's quite possible to do anything,but not to put it on theleaders.You have to do it yourself. That's what the great masters and mistresses have been saying ever since time began." J Lennon

Here is what Dr Forcella presented on the 20th -- http://chccs.granicus.com/MetaViewer.php?view_id=2&clip_id=138&meta_id=8835 The overall update was about the long range plan that he is putting in place, with 20-something strategies that need to be changed to get CHCCS where we want it to be overall. One of those strategies is: "Review of discipline protocols and procedures with focus on disproportional representation of minority students" Because that was a specific topic of this June 20th work session, Dr Forcella gave more detail on what will happen for this strategy:

- Involve parents and students- Review classroom management expectations and training- Review past and current data- Examine character development models for effectiveness and consistency- Impact of School Resource Officers as it relates to discipline- Student input solicited- Administrative rules, regulations and consistency of implementation- Recommendations presented to the Board of Education

So now, the question is how well this will be followed through on to make an actual difference for our students.  Dr Forcella has certainly focused on bringing change to our district over the past 2 years, and in the right direction.  Making sure that change happens in each and every classroom is the challenge ahead of us.

So far I don't see any comment from a classroom teacher. I think y'all are flying over the problem. The problem is a lot harder and more complicated than you think. Just take that first item on Forcella's list (involve parents and students) and try not to blow your brains out.

Update on long range plan, including target dates, has been posted in the agenda for Thursday's meeting this week -- http://chccs.granicus.com/MetaViewer.php?view_id=2&event_id=14&meta_id=9065You can see that this strategy, with the same actions as above, are scheduled for 2013-2015.  My understanding is Dr Forcella has scheduled time to begin the conversation on expectations for SROs next month with the chiefs of police.   Obviously, the results of this 2 years of work must be real change if we expect to see change in the results.  I expect there will be policy changes, changes to how we monitor ongoing, MOU changes with police, etc.

According the report James linked to, the efforts around eliminating discriminatory discipline practices for the next two years will focus on reviewing the issue. Here's the strategic item:2.6 Conduct a review of current discipline protocols and procedures with a focus on the disproportionate representation of minority groups. This review to include: 

  • Minority parent and student involvement
  • Review of classroom management expectations
  • Review of data
  • Current character development models to be examined
  • Impact of SROs in schools as it relates to discipline
  • Input from students solicited with regard to program effectiveness
  • Administrative rules, regulations, and consistency of implementation
  • Recommendations presented to the Board of Education 

What I don't see in this list is any meaningful discussion with teachers and administrators about racial prejudices and how to overcome those biases, many of which are probably not consciously applied.  

Terri, this is part of the response Dr Forcella gave to the NAACP on similar question:

It is important to know that this issue is also addressed through a number of strategies in the plan. For example, strategy 2.1 emphasizes the importance of an equity focus with regard to classroom instruction. Many other strategies are focused on classroom instruction and the importance of engaging all students in learning that it is relevant, rigorous and promotes thinking and problem solving. As we discussed at our meeting the long term solution to the discipline issue has a direct connection to the quality of classroom instruction. Strategy 2.6 is designed to address the issue in the short term as changing classroom instruction across the board may take some time.

Personally, I think we've had some of this (making sure teachers get equity training) for a long time and it hasn't made enough difference.  In my mind, 2.6 is about expecting different results and how the administration actually gets there is what needs to be worked out over the next year or so.  Given Dr Forcella's track record in using improved instruction to eliminate achievement gaps, I'm willing to allow him to focus on that instead of more traditional "equity training" (the reality will be a mix, of course).

Convocation is where all the employees of CHCCS get together before the start of the school year to be inspired, hear a message from the superintendent so we're on the same track, etc.  We can't fit all 2000 in one room, so we do it twice in the same morning (once for elementary staff, then for middle and high schools).At yesterday's convocation, Dr Forcella specifically chose to talk about the strategic plan -- why we need it, what the process is, what goals are we starting right away.   There are 11 strategies that are starting in 2013, as Terri indicated with the details above, disparate discipline is one of those.  11 is even too many for Dr Forcella to talk about in an 8 minute speech.   But he was sure to highlight this one as important and needing teacher focus right away.In fact, the way he said it was, (paraphrasing) "this is sort of easy - very much in our control. When we look at the data,  the biggest reasons minority students are suspended happen in the classroom. Our teachers can fix those issues right away."  I know he's still looking at the role of SROs.  And there are surely policy issues that need changing as well.  But I was heartened that he gave this as a challenge in front of the teachers and principals -- you can fix this without anybody else, so do it. btw, the update from Thursday's board meeting is that each strategy will have a strategy leader who will put together a team from inside and outside the district to figure out all the changes that need to happen to implement the strategy.  The strategy leaders should be named next month, so we'll know who is moving forward on this.

James, for those of us who aren't immersed in school system policy, it's hard to know what all of this means. Can you provide more context? For example, what is this strategic plan, why does it matter that Forcella referenced it? Would it have notable if he had not mentioned it at convocation? What changes does it propose, and how do YOU and other school board members feel about them? How do the teachers feel about them? Where's the action? What guarantee do we have of justice? There have been plans upon plans for decades now.

I ran into someone yesterday who ran for school board a couple of cycles ago, seemingly motivated by lack of the previous administration ever actually changing anything.  He wanted to tell me how much better things seem now with Dr Forcella.  From hiring process changes that have added really good leaders to willingness to expose where we fail, many involved stakeholders clearly sense there is change possible as never before.  We have always had this frustration in our district that we roll out programs and it never makes a difference.  Dr Forcella specifically referenced this in the last board meeting about differentiation in our classrooms -- we had the national expert here to advise us on it, and then very little follow-up has been done in the past decade and all students aren't getting the results. He seems committed to doing things dramatically differently going forward.  This strategic plan is a list of 5 goals and 28 strategies to achieve those goals.  New website is up now - http://www.chccs.k12.nc.us/site_res_view_template.aspx?id=b58670ee-532e-4cfe-9884-657087da2cf2.  Dr Forcella clearly understands that this needs to lead to real action and change in the district.  The specifics you ask for (the changes proposed) will be developed over the cycle; they aren't in the plan itself.  On this issue, I will look for specifics such as changing the role of SROs (if they need to be kept at all), training updates and measuring to ensure teachers are handling discipline in the classroom without involving administrators for minor matters, changing our practices on law enforcement referrals.  Those are the types of changes I can support that will make a difference here.  The answer to the does it matter question should be obvious -- 11 of these strategies in a single year is a lot of work, and when he chooses to include in his list of 3 really top ideas in front of the entire staff, it shows the importance to him and our district that we have real change here.  That makes me hopeful on this particular topic that we will see improved results for our students.


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