At issue | April 5 Herald-Leader article, "Report: Ky. public schools getting safer; policy violations have declined more than 20 percent since '05"
We, as citizens, need to scrutinize a recently released report card for Kentucky's schools. The Safe Schools Data Project, issued by the good folks at the Kentucky Center for School Safety, was filled with the latest data on school disciplinary actions including suspension, expulsion and corporal punishment.
There are two aspects that should draw our attention.
The first is a recurring and under-discussed reality. The data on disciplinary action in Kentucky's public schools continue to reflect intolerable differences by race.
African-American students continue to be over-represented in serious disciplinary actions for law violations and violations of school board policy. The rates at which African-American students are suspended or expelled for each type of violation are far higher than their white peers' rates.
Something is amiss when African-American students make up 25.72 percent of this "offender" population but constitute only 10.63 percent of the student population.
Some in the educational establishment want to excuse the numbers, blaming poverty as a reason. But if poverty were the leading determinant of suspension or expulsion for a board or law violation, then the Appalachian regions with the highest concentrations of child poverty should have the highest rates.
That's not the case. Instead, it's the regions with the most African-American students that have the highest rates, and the data powerfully reveal those high rates are due largely to the disproportionate numbers of African-American students being punished.
The other concerning thread of the report — virtually ignored by the media — is that Kentucky has experienced yet another school year where there were more than 1,500 incidences of corporal punishment.
To be clear, "corporal punishment" is just a fancy way of saying school personnel hit, spanked or paddled a child at school.
The most disturbing fact behind this statistic is exactly which posteriors were being smacked. One-third of them were students with disabilities, and two-thirds were elementary school students.
One could ask why Kentucky — like North Korea and Cuba — still allows this practice at all. One certainly needs to ask why schools use the most violent form of punishment against the youngest and the most vulnerable.
There were, in fact, kernels of good news in the report. Both suspension and expulsion rates are on the decline in most of the state.
Certainly, schools have a daunting challenge when it comes to discipline. I want a safe and orderly learning environment for my grandkids, as does every parent and grandparent.
And yet, in the midst of all these numbers, we must demand schoolhouses where the color of a student's skin does not dictate the discipline received. And the time has come to move away from the hickory stick and toward evidence-based student management practices to create good school climates.
Neither the color of your skin nor your posterior should ever be factors in a school's disciplinary equation.