Too many black boys get suspended too many times for too many infractions at too many schools. This has been true in Camden. This is true across the United States.
At Bonsall, which sits in the most violent neighborhood in New Jersey, over 25% of students were suspended last year.
Last week in Camden, the superintendent announced [see it here, starting at 6:12] that proactive steps would be taken to introduce a new discipline procedure and rules for suspension. Below is an image of the slide that Paymon gave.
This is an important step, but verification and follow up are key. Just because a superintendent says something, no matter how noble, it does not mean that it will be done.
We know that many criminals that lurk our streets with guns are themselves victims of an unjust discipline process in schools that lack true due process. One of the many strategies that can make Camden a safer city, is working with those in power that are doing their part in ending the school to prison pipeline. You can see my comments about this at the last Advisory Board meeting here, beginning at 56:00.
In 2013, after learning about this crisis at a school board conference, I began the steps to address this issue. Teachers and principals were excited to be involved. I was the chairman of the policy committee, but acted as a facilitator. The goal was to adopt new rules and limit the ten day suspension. At some schools, students were suspended without hearings, without counseling to alleviate future similar incidents, and without following the basic rules of the district’s own code of conduct.
At the meetings, mostly everyone thought that empowering teachers to manage their classroom with approved rules and supportive principals was invaluable. Not everyone was on the same page. One principal proudly told us that she would suspend her middle school students for seven days, by dishing out suspensions consecutively for different infractions in the same incident. Three days for this and four days for that. [She’s no longer a principal in the district.] Principals, directors, teachers, and parents gave their feedback on changing the discipline code. Its current state was a mess. The school districts official rules for student discipline were problematic. It told principals to punish first and twelfth graders the same way. It was harsh. Third infractions in one school year often we to meant with ten day suspensions. Two full weeks. One fifth of a marking period.
Below is a screenshot of the original agenda, when I brought this issue to the Policy Committee.
I congratulate Paymon for taking this step. I think that this policy update can save lives for years to come. It isn’t enough. It comes too late. But in these days where the community feels that it is held captive by criminals and ignored by their political leaders, this is an important step. This means that more students will spend more days in the classroom learning. But those schools must be safe and the teachers must be able to teach with a solid curriculum and resources.
The community can support this by constantly talking about education and expressing the value of it. The messages of respect and studying must be expressed consistently. How are your grades? You staying out of trouble? The community is counting on you.
We must also continue to question Paymon, the Advisory Board, and principals to not let this issue fade from fatigue of the five point plan. We need more in-house suspension, more teachers and administrators from similar poor urban communities, and more after school activities for students. The work continues.