The Columbian recently published a report about the state attorney general investigating Vancouver Public Schools’ disciplinary practices. In a press release, VPS voiced a commitment to addressing disciplinary inequities, outlining key steps the district will take. As VPS and other local districts in Southwest Washington seek to address discipline disparities, it is vital for educators to talk and listen to the students and families most impacted by these injustices.
Disproportionate discipline rates reflect inequities in how students are treated in moment-to-moment interactions with school officials. Students are uniquely positioned to understand these interactions. Yet in my experience as both a teacher and professor, many school reform initiatives fail to ground their work in the expertise of students. Research shows that educators often ignore student voices in decision-making, especially the perspectives of students of color, students experiencing poverty, LGBTQ students and students with disabilities.
We educators have so many tools and plans. But equity is not accomplished with a series of check-boxes or behavior systems. Culturally responsive, equitable school reform cannot be a top-down process alone. VPS and all our local districts should work with families and youth as they seek to address systemic school injustices, especially related to discipline.