It’s Time to Rethink Discipline at School

Feb 10, 2021

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Ar_Sheill Monsanto

By Ar’Sheill Monsanto
Leadership ISD ’21

A new virtual learning environment

It was a Tuesday morning—my self-proclaimed most productive day of week because I have a laser focus on tasks and my hard work culminates with tacos. On this particular day, my four-year-old son and I sat at our dining room table together working on phonics and basic math in between Zoom calls. It was our version of virtual learning because we did not have access to pods. Our dining room table, prior to the pandemic was for special occasions, but was now peppered with notepads, pencils with the grip, Post- it notes, crayons, Lego blocks, Nerf toys, darts and my coffee mug.

As I embarked on my workday, I began reading national headlines about the turmoil of education during the COVID-19 pandemic. In my newsfeed, I read multiple articles about black male students being suspended during virtual learning for having toy guns within view during online instruction. It was infuriating to see students that looked like the aged version of my son being punished for arbitrary interpretations of the school code of conduct. However, I realized that this type of discretionary discipline was not new to the pandemic and that it further widened inequity in education.

Discretionary discipline needs to end

Throughout schools across Harris County, there’s a gross overrepresentation of punitive school discipline practices that impact students of color. Discretionary discipline occurs when campus administrators remove students from schools for disciplinary purposes often by citing infractions of the Texas Education Code. According to research, Black student removal rate is 2.5x greater than other student subgroups. Furthermore, data of the Houston Citywide Effort to Address Implicit Bias Project, notes that 87% of punishments in schools are discretionary violations of the school’s code of conduct. These discretionary violations could include seeing a salient, neon green toy gun and suspending a student for bringing a “weapon on campus” although they are learning from home and the “weapon” is obviously a toy. When a student is suspended from class or referred to alternative schools or more egregiously, arrested; this is the impetus for a pathway to the criminal justice system. As drastic as it sounds, it happens quite often and is deeply rooted in our education system.

Students should be educated, not criminalized

COVID-19 has done its share of ravaging our “normal” especially in the way we educate students. But if there is a silver lining, it is that it gives us an opportunity to reimagine our education system. As a Leadership ISD Civic Voices of Houston fellow, my colleagues and I are working to do just that. Simply put, students should not be criminalized. They should be educated and provided with the proper resources that foster learning and curiosity. When my son begins kindergarten during the 2021-2022 school year, if it is in person, I’m fairly certain he will pack his Miles Morales Spiderman, one of his favorite toys in his backpack for comfort. If our schools continue to ignore opportunities to revise discretionary decision-making that is deeply racist, his favorite action figure could be deemed a violation of school rules and bring about serious consequences which can include jail. Instead, it is my goal as an LISD fellow and a parent to work together to fight toward equity. Moreover, I call on our educational leaders and elected trustees to review current policies that might be racially biased and reverse practices that systematically push out students of color.