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Commissioner explains plan to address discipline disparity in Indiana classrooms

Venita Moore wants to correct disproportionate suspension and expulsion rates
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Posted at 2:11 PM, Jul 06, 2020
and last updated 2020-07-06 20:41:09-04

INDIANAPOLIS — An Indianapolis Public Schools Commissioner is taking action to address discipline disparities in Indiana classrooms.

It’s a problem Call 6 Investigates brought to light last fall—that black students are more likely to get suspended, expelled and arrested at school than their white peers.

Venita Moore is working on a proposal with the administration to address the disproportionate suspension and expulsions rates and develop a report and action plan for community review within the next 90 days.

2019-2020 demographic information shows that 73.4% of IPS students are children of color, with 42.3% being Black and 31.1% Hispanic.

However, children of color make up 79% of in-school suspensions, 84% of out-of-school suspensions, and 86% of expulsions.

Call 6 Investigates reported on this disparity at IPS back in November.

PREVIOUS | Black students disciplined at higher rates in Indiana schools

Moore said the death of George Floyd and the protests that followed her prompted her to take action.

“I had a chance to go to some of the rallies and think about where our kids are, and some of the things that happen to African American male students in our school," said Moore.

Black students in Indiana are nearly four times as likely to get an out-of-school suspension than their white peers, according to state data, and twice as likely to receive an in-school suspension than white students.

Indiana also ranks 4th highest in the country when it comes to the rate of out-of-school suspensions for black teens in middle and high school, according to the Center for Civil Rights Remedies at UCLA.

24% or nearly a quarter of black middle and high school students in Indiana have been suspended at least once.

The disparity is happening with student arrests as well.

State data shows black students make up 12% of the state’s student population, yet comprise 26% of arrests on school property.

A School-to-Prison Pipeline in Indiana study shows students who get in trouble in school are more likely to end up in the criminal justice system.

“That prison pipeline, that's for real. A lot of our children get branded by the 3rd grade,” said Moore. “If we continue on this path, people will see a black man walking down the street; they're going to grab their purse. "

Moore’s proposal would require IPS officers attend racial equity training and prohibit employing IPS police officers with a history of excessive force or discrimination complaints.

“I think we need to talk with security about how to de-escalate some of the things that occur in a school,” said Moore. “I think we need to advocate for our children so they know how to advocate for themselves."

Her plan is to launch a district-wide curriculum review to include civil rights education and training for students similar to the Colin Kaepernick Initiative .

Call 6 Investigates found some possible reasons for the state’s discipline disparity include “zero tolerance” policies that don’t take into account why a student behaves a certain way, implicit bias among teachers and administrators, and black students are more likely to attend schools with fewer resources to address student behavior.

"I believe if they can begin to understand and advocate for themselves more properly, then some of these things can be eliminated,” said Moore.

We reached out to IPS superintendent Aleesia Johnson for comment and we are still waiting to hear back.

IPS also recently approved a new racial equity policy that will implement several actions, including:

  • Creating an infrastructure for all IPS staff members to have access to robust professional learning experiences around racial equity.
  • Activating and responding accordingly to support the district's most vulnerable communities, especially in the event of an unprecedented crisis (e.g., a global pandemic).
  • Expanding ongoing efforts to identify and address racial disparities and disproportionalities in school suspensions, expulsions and academic outcomes.
  • Intentionally ensuring all students have access to high-quality, culturally relevant curriculums and instructional materials.