News and Commentary

School District ‘Equity Committee’ Recommends Ending Student Suspensions As Punishment
Two school kids fight in a dark passageway of their school, almost silhouette.
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A school district in Minnesota’s “equity committee” has recommended public schools stop suspending students for any offense, arguing that suspensions make students feel “shamed” and provide no “restorative” benefits.

The Pioneer Press reported that St. Paul Public School District’s equity committee provided the recommendations last week, citing high numbers of Black and American Indian students getting suspended as the impetus.

“We cannot do our jobs if the students are at home,” William Hill, a member of the community and described by the outlet as “restorative practices coordinator at Central High School,” told the school board.

The equity committee was reportedly created in late 2019 at the request of Superintendent Joe Gothard. The committee made several recommendations on Tuesday, including the end of suspensions.

“We’re going to have to review them all,” Gothard said, according to the Press. “Do I want less [sic] students suspended? Absolutely.”

More from the Press:

Black students, who made up 26 percent of district enrollment, received about 73 percent of out-of-school suspensions in 2019-20, according to reports to the Minnesota Department of Human Rights, which is monitoring the district’s discipline data. American Indians made up 1 percent of enrollment but around 5 percent of suspensions that year.

Riverview West Side School of Excellence Principal Nancy Paez, who serves on the equity committee, said students who get kicked out of school feel shamed and miss instruction, peer interaction and opportunities for restoration.

Ignored is the possibility that these students are committing more disciplinary infractions than their white, Asian, or Hispanic peers.

The College Fix noted that there is more to the disproportioned punishments than these educators are willing to admit. Former Department of Education official Hans Bader wrote last month studies show black students get into more fights than white students. This comes even from self-reported surveys.

“There’s also the not-so-small matter of the courts panning the notion that discipline percentages have to be proportional. In the 1997 case People Who Care v. Rockford Board of Education, an appeals court shot down a district’s proportionate discipline mandate saying it was illegal, ‘violates equity in its root sense,’ and ‘entails either systematically overpunishing the innocent or systematically underpunishing the guilty,’” the Fix wrote.

The equity committee also listed five other issues the school district must address:

  • There aren’t enough non-white teachers — just 21 percent compared with 79 percent of students — and staff generally lack cultural and racial awareness.
  • High teacher turnover prevents schools from maintaining a positive school climate.
  • The curriculum does not sufficiently reflect students of color, causing them to disengage from school.
  • There is “an ingrained belief” that there’s only “one path to success” and it’s by doing “the same things white people do.”
  • Parents whose first language is not English struggle to navigate the Individualized Education Program process for their special-education students. Meetings move too quickly, and interpreters are provided only during the meetings, making it difficult for parents to follow up.

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