A 2015 study conducted by The Center for Civil Rights Remedies identified Missouri as a state with some of worst racial suspension disparities in the county. After reviewing this alarming data, the Mayor’s office, Turn the Page KC, and Kansas City Health Department came together to host a summit addressing the root causes of disproportionate suspensions in elementary school. The Mayor invited leaders from schools throughout the metro area to receive reports on suspension incidents that happened in their schools over the last year, leading to an open and honest conversation about how the community can come together to identify the solution to and reverse this trend of suspensions.
The KCMO Health department researched citywide averages of suspension incidents and compiled detailed reports for each school that attended the summit. Dr. Sarah Martin-Anderson of the KCMO Health department reviewed these reports with the group. The findings showed that Kansas City was very similar to the national averages for enrollment and incidents. Within Kansas City the rate of incidents increased by 40% between 2015 and 2016. These averages showed a large disparity in the races and genders of the students that were involved in suspension incidents, with black males being five times more likely to get suspended than their peers.
The reports showed that the majority of incidents filed in schools were classified as “other” rather than violent acts, or alcohol and drugs. This type of willful defiance is the number one reason that students are sent to the office in the country. This type of discipline is a result of subjective interpretation of the teacher. Over time teachers classifying students as a “troublemakers” can lead to an inherit bias and frequent suspensions of kids who may just need another intervention.
Dr. Jason Okonofua, a psychology professor from University of California-Berkley, addressed inherent bias at the summit. Dr. Okonofua described the long-term effect that inherent bias can have on students and how the relationship that teachers have with students can greatly impact how a student behaves and performs in schools. His research shows that suspension rates can drop 50% in schools where teachers go through bias training. This training aims to change teacher’s approach to discipline model, finding alternatives to punitive action.
Summit attendees participated in an implicit bias training hosted by Diversity Talks, a Rhode Island based program focused on providing student-led workshops to K-12 school districts and higher education institutions. The workshop, led by high school student leaders, challenged attendees to talk openly about educational disparities and student discipline interactions. Following the summit, schools were invited to
Mike English, Executive director of Turn the Page KC, called on the attendees to continue the work done at the summit within their schools. Funding opportunities for training and support are available thanks to support from the Hall Family Foundation, Diversity Talks, and the Kauffman Foundation.