responding to racism in schools

Responding to Racism in Schools

responding to racism in schools

Last week in a neighboring high school district in our county, students were disciplined for staging a photo where their spirit week Scrabble letters spelled out, “N****r.” [1] Obviously, this incident is restarting a conversation about racism in schools.

According to a petition [2], the students were only suspended for 9 days. The outrage on the petition and across social media platforms was swift and clear. To date, more than 6,000 people have signed the petition which asks for stricter and more appropriate discipline.

As a side note, I’m following a fellow adoptive mom whose daughter was just suspended for several WEEKS for consensual horseplay on school property. As in a group of students of color were stupidly goofing off in a way where physical contact was made. All students assured the administration that it wasn’t fighting, they were just playing a game. They weren’t heard. Just suspended and now there’s a hearing on the incident. My friend’s daughter is still not back at school…being denied her education. She is black.

My visceral reaction to racism is anger and disgust and the need for retribution. After reading the news story on this, my lid was flipped. [3] However, we’ve started to extrapolate connected parenting principles to other aspects of our lives. After my initial seething, I could hear my thinking brain encouraging me to have a response rather than a reaction.

[bctt tweet=”Have a response rather than a reaction. #racism #parenting #education” username=”macorkum”]

Expulsion for racism in schools

It’s what the people are calling for. They are angry. I was quick to agree. Then there are comments that expulsion doesn’t actually address the heart of the issue. Such wise folks. I mulled and thought. True. Straight up punishment is not the answer. Something more restorative and educational is in order. But back to expulsion. I’m actually for it. Not because that’s what they deserve or because it makes me feel better. Expulsion is appropriate because of the victims—all of the students of color at the school. If you were a black kid, how would you feel knowing that these white kids, who were ballsy and racist enough to post such a photo, were loose at school with barely a slap on the wrist for such a heinous act? As a mama of black kids, I can tell you my kids wouldn’t be forced to go back until the administration addressed their felt safety needs which would include knowing that the guilty parties were nowhere near my kids.

Similar felt safety sentiments were expressed by students in another Maryland county last year following offensive social media postings.

“People should have the right to be informed if the student is expelled or when the student returns to the school/school system,” students wrote in their proposal. “When people are left without information, they are in constant fear that the threatening student will return. At this point in time, administration and HCPSS cannot share any knowledge of the student’s return or lack thereof. The feeling of safety is jeopardized when students are not informed properly.” [4]

Restorative Justice for Racism in Schools

But expulsion is to protect the victims, so what about the restorative justice [5] piece? Rather than straight punishment, connective principles ask what is being communicated by the behavior and think about what would be an effective solution. I don’t know these kids at all, but the offensive photo seems to indicate a lack of understanding, thoughtfulness, and awareness. Often, kids who are willing to hurt other kids are often hurt and insecure kids themselves. I’m thinking that a reasonable consequence would be putting the kids in situations where they got to know students and families of other colors and their stories. Initially they should hear how students of color were impacted by their photo. In addition, there should also be long term plans to put the white kids face to face, and elbow to elbow, with the group of people that they are so relationally far enough away from right now that they have no problem dehumanizing them. I think the parents and siblings of the kids should be involved, too. Paradigms are not formed in a vacuum.

Parenting special needs kids (and some who I didn’t form and shape from birth) makes me aware that there are not always ignorant, racist parents behind some kids, but involving families will never hurt.

Proactive Education to Prevent Racism in Schools

Systemically, it would be appropriate for Harford County Public Schools to implement some kind of diversity education. At 85% white (more white than the average across Maryland and the US), it should be obvious that education to combat prejudice and racism is a necessity. Students need to have their paradigms challenged and stretched. They need to learn how to think outside their racist boxes. [6].

If your child has been the victim of racism at school, what would have been helpful steps toward reconciliation and restorative justice?

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