3TEN

Community groups examine racial inequity

Back to Article
Back to Article

Community groups examine racial inequity

Adelaide Taylor

Hang on for a minute...we're trying to find some more stories you might like.


Email This Story






“#OurDecatur #OurKids? If we want this hashtag to mean anything to anybody, we have to do something now. The time is right now.”

After an equity study found significant disparities between black and white students in disciplinary actions and academic placings, Decatur intends to be the first school district ever to tackle and achieve racial equity.

Newly hired Equity Director Dr. Lillie Huddleston has spent the last year meeting with parents, teachers and community members throughout the district to learn as much as she could about equity and inequity in Decatur. This led her to a complete examination of the District’s equity using Thomas P. Miller & Associates and Next Step Associates.

The team’s findings were condensed into the 2018 Equity Report. Huddleston believes that the report is a “really good snapshot of what’s happening in Decatur.”

The disparities in discipline were the first to catch Huddleston’s and Superintendent David Dude’s attention. The Equity Report shows that in the 2016-2017 school year, 20.5% of black students with a disorderly conduct incident received an out of school suspension, while only 2.1% of white students with the same incident report received an out of school suspension.

After seeing these disparities, Huddleston researched and cited two causes as the most likely for these statistics.

One of the primary factors could be that black students are being referred more often for code violations than white students. If black students are referred more frequently, they will be further along the consequence line than white students, resulting in harsher disciplinary actions, according to Huddleston.

The second reason Huddleston cited was implicit bias, which means teachers and administrators punished black students more harshly, due to their race. The Equity Report shows that of the students with ‘behavioral incidents’, 63% were black and 32.1% were white, which is largely disproportionate to Decatur’s student population.

In the Equity Report, an unnamed administrator discussed their observations of implicit bias in a focus group.

“if you have two children at any grade level walking into a school, the color of their skin does factor into their academic performance as the years go on and it’s not because the kids are different but it’s because their experience within the school is different.”

Huddleston still isn’t sure how connected, or prevalent, each of the two causes are, but she worked through CSD’s disciplinary policies with “a fine-toothed comb” to find ones that could target black students unfairly and created several plans to combat the disparities.

Equity committees at each school and in CSD have been formed. At Decatur, they’ve read a book on equity, gone on a retreat, and begun to educate other teachers on how to promote equity in the classroom.

“One of the things that we’re doing is looking at restorative practices and punishments that are less punitive if a student is referred,” said Huddleston.

As recommended by the Equity Report, this fall, administrators and counselors will be attending a training that will teach administrators new ways to interact, and process, students who are referred for disciplinary action.

Huddleston is also looking at equity at other schools to find out what works. However, it may be quite the search.

Racial disparities in discipline aren’t unique to Decatur, shows a March 2018 report by the Government Accountability Office, a government agency that provides auditing and evaluation services for the US Congress. It studied 19 schools in 5 states and found that black students were 15.5% of the student population but accounted for about 39% of suspensions.

“In America, we have a history, of structures that were really built on inequity, racial inequity,” Huddleston said. “We all breathe that. It’s all there.”

Eventually, CSD will have another large evaluation, but in the meantime, Huddleston looks at the disciplinary referrals at Decatur High once a week.

“I feel like I know students by name,” Huddleston said. “We’re intervening as early as possible to try to get students the tools they need to succeed.”

Huddleston said that it will take a while to see clear differences in disciplinary statistics. But Decatur’s Beacon Hill Black Alliance for Human Rights (Beacon Hill), is asking for concrete action as soon as possible.

At the September Board of Education meeting, Huddleston introduced the CSD Equity Plan. At the same meeting, Beacon Hill, along with students from Decatur’s Black Student Union (BSU), presented a list of seven demands that were hand-delivered to CSD Superintendent Dude and Huddleston.

The room was packed, and when asked if they supported Beacon Hill’s demands, most of the crowd rose from their seats. Beacon Hill’s list, which had been in the works for two years, included demand #1; ending out of school suspensions and expulsions for K-5 students and #4; the creation of a formal grievance process for students who feel they have been discriminated against.

“We demand the establishment of a widely and easily accessible explicit grievance policy and protocol,” Kenya Oliver read to the Board.

Oliver, a senior, president and co-founder of the DHS Black Student Union, wasn’t surprised when she read the Equity Report findings. “I do appreciate living in a community as unique as Decatur,” Oliver stated.  “It’s a lot to take in, it’s just not surprising… as I’ve grown, I can’t help but see obvious flaws that re-appear every year.”

One of the most important demands, Oliver said, is the implementation of a grievance process.

“People just have stories that need to be told,” Oliver said. “They need to be heard by people who genuinely care and will make the change or inform a higher power. The people who felt discriminated against should feel validated.”

Oliver recognizes the importance of having the numbers clearly written out in the Equity Report, but doesn’t consider it an accurate reflection of “what’s really happening, because I think it’s a more personal experience than just what numbers can reflect.”

Her personal experience stems from being the only black person in many of her advanced classes. 1 in 11 black students are in the gifted program, compared to 1 in 4 white students, which means that black students aren’t receiving the same opportunities. One of the challenges Huddleston intends to tackle is how to make programs like the IB Diploma more accessible for black students.

“We have to find a way so that black students can see themselves in and be motivated to take advanced classes,” Huddleston said.

Reflecting on Huddleston’s progress, Oliver agrees that teachers should attend implicit bias/ restorative training sessions, but says they need to be mandatory for all teachers, Beacon Hill’s demand #6. She says teachers who most likely need it may not be the ones who show up for an optional session.

After Beacon Hill presented their demands, many parents and students voiced their support of the demands to the Board during its open comment session. One parent reflected on a situation she’d seen often for black students at Decatur.

“Without a grievance process, our kids give up,” they said. “They just want to do their time and get out (of Decatur).”

Another questioned Decatur’s new motto, ‘My Decatur, Your Decatur, Our Decatur.’

“#OurDecatur #OurKids? If we want this hashtag to mean anything to anybody, we have to do something now. The time is right now.”

Compared to their white peers, black parents and teachers cited significantly more often that they strongly disagreed with statements about positive race relations, positive communication with families, and equitable treatment of students in academics and discipline.

There’s definitely more progress to be made, agreed Dude.

“Experts could not think of a single school district that tackled the issue of race-based disparities and succeeded in eliminating those disparities,” Dude stated on his blog. “We fully intend to make City Schools of Decatur the first.”

Mawuli Davis, President of Beacon Hill, and a community organizer and lawyer, has an extensive background working on civil rights and two sons who graduated Decatur. Many of the following quotes come from Decaturish’s interview of Davis.

Davis said that in order to see a difference, the school district will have to make equity a priority.

“You’re not excited about school if you’re considered a problem,” Davis said. “We want to have a school environment where all of the young people are excited to come to school.”

Beacon Hill lends a hand to many causes, but the group channeled all their energy into racial equity in CSD, Oliver said. Davis believes the demands will help all students, not just black students.

“Is there anything that would cause a white student to be devalued or harmed? No.” Davis said. “They’re not radical. Why anyone would push back against (the demands) is concerning. If they’re implemented, it will benefit the entire community.”

In line with this is demand #6: The creation of a formal grievance process that Beacon Hill demanded isn’t only for discrimination by race, but also “ethnicity, gender identity, sexuality, religion, socioeconomic status, language or national origin.”

At the Board meeting, Davis described an incident that happened to one of his two sons, a graduated Decatur student. Davis said his son and a friend were playfully “necking” each other, and a parent reported it to the school as a “gang initiation,” and the school considered suspending Davis’s son.

Davis dropped everything to go to the school and stick up for his son, he said, but he worries about other students who don’t have the same support system.

“What scares me is parents that don’t have the education level, the wherewithal to drop everything… What happens to that young person is that they get a mark on their record going into college,” Davis said.

Senior Kenya Oliver is president and co-founder of the DHS Black Student Union.

Davis testified to the credibility of parents and students sharing their experiences at the Board meeting.

“We’re not pulling these experiences out of the sky,” Davis said. “We live this. I’m never going to consent to oppression. I’m never going to consent to my children being treated as less than equal.”

“Inequity has become normalized, like that’s just the way the world works, but it shouldn’t be,” said Ayoka Shakir, a longtime teacher at Decatur, who is on the CSD and Decatur equity committees.

The demand that stood out most to Shakir was #7, the creation of a ‘cultural competence’ rating process of teachers.

“I’m not sure how it’s to be done, but in literature, maybe we could look at the diversity of the material that we teach,” Shakir said.

Starting on Monday, Sept. 8, a teacher workday, with others on the Decatur equity committee, she will help implement professional learning for other teachers around a book called Creative Conversations About Race, a “study guide for equity in schools”.

Shakir strives to create an equitable environment in her classroom by making it a “family group”.

“I want all of my students to contribute to the class and respect one another,” Shakir said.

Shakir expects her students to respect other races and cultures, and reminds them often. Additionally, Shakir tells her students that they should not expect one student to be a spokesperson for an entire group of people.

“Students can only speak for themselves, and it’s only fair to respect them as such,” said Shakir.

She thinks the method works most of the time.

“If it doesn’t feel like a community of respect, it’s usually because of something that’s happened prior to them being in my class… Then we have to try and overcome that”, Shakir said.

Oliver hopes to see more equity for black students at Decatur, but she isn’t sure she will.

“It’s like you put in all this work and we’re not sure if anything will happen. I guess we’ll see.”

Shakir agrees, “There will always be room for improvement in the system, I think.”

 

Print Friendly, PDF & Email
About the Writer
Adelaide Taylor, Author

Adi Taylor (Class of 2020) loves to share people’s stories. She is a dedicated xc and track runner. When not running, you can usually find her drinking...

Leave a Comment

If you want a picture to show with your comment, go get a gravatar.




Navigate Left
  • Community groups examine racial inequity

    ENTERTAINMENT

    Contestants to take the stage in Decatur’s Got Talent Auditions

  • Community groups examine racial inequity

    NEWS

    Entire district locked down

  • Community groups examine racial inequity

    Advertisment

    City Schools of Decatur Live Twitter Feed

  • Community groups examine racial inequity

    NEWS

    Trump Administration changes policy on birth control insurance coverage

  • Community groups examine racial inequity

    ENTERTAINMENT

    Update: James and the Giant Peach Tech Week and Preparation for Opening Night

  • Community groups examine racial inequity

    Events

    Decatur practices first code red drill in two years

  • Community groups examine racial inequity

    NEWS

    Decatur City Dance Company hosts fall performance

  • Community groups examine racial inequity

    NEWS

    DHS Implements New Spirit Points System

  • Community groups examine racial inequity

    NEWS

    Agnes Scott Muslim Association raises money for Yemen

  • Community groups examine racial inequity

    NEWS

    Candlelight vigil held in honor for Kennedy Segars

Navigate Right
Decatur High School, GA
Community groups examine racial inequity