North Carolina’s largest school district appears to be following in the footsteps of Florida’s Parkland High School when it comes to ‘school discipline’ policies.
Recently, the Wake County School Board announced it had come to an agreement with the U.S. Department of Education’s Office for Civil Rights (OCR) over a complaint filed several years ago by multiple parties, including the NC NAACP.
The complaint, in essence, revolves around the ‘school-to-prison pipeline‘ and the higher rate at which minority students are suspended or disciplined. At no time in the debate over the complaint was the question ‘are these suspensions warranted?’ ever asked.
The OCR has apparently agreed to close the Wake County Public Schools (WCPSS) case as early as 2021 if the district continues to make changes to discipline processes.
This agreement between OCR and Wake County Schools includes “peer mediation” and “restorative justice circles” instead of suspensions.
The district must continue to make changes with discipline policies, practices, and procedures, data collection and self-monitoring, and district staff training. All of these changes must have the aim of reducing minority discipline levels.
It was also revealed that the creation of the over half a million dollars a year “Office of Equity Affairs” was a requirement for quelling the complaint filed against the district. This office is now tasked with the development discipline “equity plans” for the entire district.
The Office of Equity Affairs started with only 3 employees, including a Social Justice Warrior from the Southern Poverty Law Center being paid $85,000 a year. A 4th employee was added over the Summer – Christina Spears. More details on how much Spears is costing taxpayers will be reported as they become available.
In addition, the agreement with OCR demands that rules in the Wake County Student Code of Conduct regarding “inappropriate language,” “disrespect,” and “disruptive behavior” need to be clarified even further so there is little room for interpretation.
Proposed changes will be discussed by the Wake Board in January 2019, and it is likely to be finalized prior to the start of the next school year.
WCPSS Board Puts on Promise Blinders
The changes WCPSS has made so far mirror that of the program known as “PROMISE” (Preventing Recidivism through Opportunities, Mentoring, Interventions, Supports, and Education) which allowed for Nikolas Cruz’s escalating violence to go unchecked and ultimately led to the fatal shooting that shocked the nation.
For a detailed look at Parkland, the PROMISE program and a comparison timeline in North Carolina read The School to Prison Pipeline and the Parkland Shooting.
“Suspensions have a very poor efficacy rate,” Wake County Public Schools System board member Dr. Jim Martin said. “If suspensions worked, you would not see repeat suspensions. We want discipline that maximizes learning that changes behavior.”
Dr. Martin is hoping no one asks questions about his dangerously naive and misleading remarks. Questions like: Are these suspensions warranted? And if so, why hasn’t the student been expelled yet?
Perhaps suspensions don’t work because WCPSS’ suspensions are a joke to the students receiving them?
A suspension is a slap on the wrist and was the punishment given to a student who brutally beat another student at Wakefield High just this past October when criminal charges likely should have been filed.
These questions about suspension rates become worth asking when one compares the watered-down data provided by WCPSS with that of the Dept. of Public Instruction’s school crime report.
WCPSS’ 2016-17 Student Discipline data has been making the rounds in multiple news reports, but that data is only focused on race and provides no detail on the types of crimes being committed in the district.
According to the 2016-17 school crime report by the Dept. of Public Instruction, to the right are the crimes that took place in Wake County schools.
Note the assaults on school personnel and the two rapes that apparently took place yet garnered zero news reports.
Will the new discipline policy require “restorative justice circles” for sexual assaults? Rape? How about burning a school building?
Note that the list does not including “fighting” as a category. This is likely on purpose given the number of fights occurring in NC schools on a regular basis.
For example, WCPSS has had a serious fighting problem at all its major high schools that reach back more than a decade.
I’ve written about Wake County’s fight problems before. In 2015, local media outlet WRAL reported that “since the beginning of the school year, Raleigh Police have responded to 209 fight calls at the city’s eight high schools.”
Given that the vast majority of Wake County High Schools run on a traditional calendar schedule and when school began in August, that 209 number translates to roughly about eight weeks of school had elapsed at the time of the WRAL report.
Going one step further, that 209 fight call statistic breaks down to about 26.5 fights a week Raleigh Police responded to. Where there suspensions? Were there charges filed? Were these fights recorded as ‘assaults’ or even recorded at all?
According to the 2016-17 school crime report, WCPSS Short-term suspensions totaled 4,890 or 10.26% of the average daily membership that year.
The school crime report also notes that Districts with the largest 3-year dropout count increases during 2016-17 were Wake, Durham, Rowan-Salisbury, Cabarrus, and Forsyth.
Wake County had 819 drop-outs in 2015-16 but that jumped to 1,394 in 2016-17. That’s a 70.2% increase. Further analysis of the 2016-17 school crime report can be found here.
What Is the Legislature Doing on School Safety?
In 2013, then Governor Pat McCrory launched the Center for Safer Schools. The intent was admirable, but what is this center actually doing? Cracking down on speeders. That’s important but given the scope of the center’s goals, this level of activity underwhelming. No one has asked what Gov. Cooper is doing with the center, which now falls under his purview.
The last meeting of the legislature’s Select Committee on School Safety was December 6th. The meeting came on the heels of the shooting at Butler High School and a presentation was given by Charlotte-Mecklenburg officials that was perhaps ironically titled “CMS Circle of Safety.”
Some proposed legislation did come out of the December 6th meeting, but the bulk of the funds are being spent on mental health with a small portion going to more resource officers. There appears to be no spending in the proposal for emergency response training of any kind.
“SECTION 2” of the School Safety Grants draft bill lays out the spending of just under $49 million dollars:
(1) The sum of six million one hundred forty thousand dollars ($6,140,000) in nonrecurring funds for school safety equipment pursuant to Section 1(g) of this act.
(2) The sum of thirty-five million fifty thousand dollars ($35,050,000) in recurring funds for (i) grants for students in crisis pursuant to Section 1(e) of
this act, (ii) grants for school safety training pursuant to Section 1(f) of this act, (iii) grants for school mental health support personnel pursuant to Section 1(h) of this act, and (iv), beginning with the 2019-2020 fiscal year, an additional seven million seven hundred thousand dollars ($7,700,000) in recurring funds for school resource officers in accordance with the grant program established pursuant to Section 7.27(e) of S.L. 2018-5
In the end, it appears that neither the NC General Assembly nor districts like Wake County understand that changing your suspension statistics will not actually change the reality that crimes are being committed on our K-12 campuses.
For legislators and for WCPSS board members more obsessed with statistics than solutions, I would encourage listening to and reading through the testimony of Max Eden before the House Judiciary Committee on School Violence.