DeKalb school chief on high suspension rates: ‘We’re not really proud of that’

DeKalb Superintendent Steve Green responds to a recent AJC story on high suspensions at several of the district’s schools. You can read which DeKalb schools have the highest number of suspensions here.

By Steve Green

Schools learn lessons, just like students.

In the DeKalb County School District, we think the way we discipline young people might earn a higher grade.

The Atlanta Journal-Constitution recently reported on the numbers of students suspended from high schools in our metro area. DeKalb County had five of the top 10 schools with the most suspensions.  While we might not agree completely with the data that was recently released from the state, this issue has been on my radar since I arrived in July.

We’re not really proud of that. Suspension should not routinely be the first consequence when a student runs into an issue of discipline. A de facto suspension policy for discipline violations teaches students a lot about punishment but not so much about problem-solving, self-control, or compassion for others.

Let’s be clear. Respect and discipline must be central to the experience of education, and all through life. We in the DeKalb school district want young people to be fully accountable for behavior.

Dr. Steve Green

Dr. Steve Green

But we also understand that dismissing a young person for bad behavior in school often simply pushes that bad behavior out into the world. Is this the role of an educational system, sending classroom problems out the door to become street corner problems? Absolutely not.

We believe we should make every possible effort to keep more of our young men where they belong – in the classroom. For many, that’s the most structured, safest place to help them gain the social skills they need to succeed in life.

I mention young men for a reason. Our current disciplinary system disproportionately punishes male students of color. More black young men — and a higher percentage of black young men —  receive discipline than any other group in public schools.

Do they deserve more discipline? Yes. Any time this subject comes up, the conversation becomes philosophical. People in favor of strict, zero-tolerance guidelines point out, often with good intention and deep sincerity, that teachers, administrators, and other students should never have to put up with bad classroom behavior.

We agree. But we’re realists, too. We understand that dealing with discipline may require nuance and new approaches in a complex district like ours, with 135 schools and 102,000 students from 180 nations and with 144 languages. Our teachers walk into classrooms every day dedicated to students who have experienced traumatic circumstances (death, abuse, homelessness), and who are gravely at risk educationally.

The life chances of the average child of color lags behind by almost every measure and it’s especially bad for boys and young men.

A kid out of school has a higher chance of ending up in the criminal justice system, not to mention the higher chance of being a victim of a violent crime. Without schooling, fewer young men of color participate in the labor force, compared to young white men. This means higher unemployment and poverty rates in adulthood and a perpetual cycle of hopelessness

In DeKalb, we want appropriate penalties for inappropriate behavior but the last thing we want is play any part in the destruction of a young adult life before it even begins.

We see growing support at the state and federal level for new approaches. Gov. Nathan Deal and President Obama agree that we should reform criminal justice laws to reduce prison populations and give former inmates opportunities to rebuild their lives, especially after incarceration for non-violent crimes.

In the same way, we feel DeKalb must change the discipline culture in our school district. As a start, we’re training our people to look at restorative practices to help remediate behavior.

Restorative approaches offer better alternatives than punitive disciplinary systems and procedures. In a punitive system, discipline really doesn’t link wrongdoers and those they harm. It fails to make any real connections between punishment and the actual offense. Authorities ask: What rule’s been broken? Who’s to blame? What’s the punishment?

The restorative approach asks questions that open a path to progress: What happened? Who’s been affected? How? How do we put things right? How do we move forward?

Increasingly, we see schools with restorative approaches more effective at shaping positive classroom cultures. They establish lasting changes in relationships and better connections among members of a school community. Victims speak, and wrongdoers face them and face accountability. The entire climate of care improves.

In DeKalb, our restorative system of discipline will focus on the whole child, not just the bad a child does.

A newly created Student Support and Intervention Division will guide our efforts to address the diverse needs of students and families. Understanding that behavioral problems can result from issues in the home – issues in which entire families may need help – we’ll work to provide intensified wrap-around support for this “whole child.”

This support may include counseling, social work, psychological services, and community connections. As part of our effort, 12 schools will implement Positive Behavioral Intervention and Supports during the 2016-17 school year, with more to join in 2017-18.

We’re evaluating the Student Code of Conduct, which defines inappropriate behavior and consequences. We want to graft restorative practices — and more reasonable penalties — into this key piece of DeKalb DNA.

We’re getting better data on students, helping us spot trends and then put right resources in the right places.

Finally, we’re intensifying our focus on wrap-around support for young men of color as part of My Brother’s Keeper, an initiative expanded by President Obama during this year’s MLK Day commemorations. My Brother’s Keeper seeks to identify and expand the most successful initiatives in national education. To address opportunity gaps, businesses have pledged $200 million nationally to this effort.

We embrace President Obama’s reasoning for the initiative. “We need to give every child, no matter what they look like, where they live, the chance to reach full potential,” Obama said.

“If we help these wonderful young men become better husbands and fathers, and well-educated, hardworking, good citizens, then not only will they contribute to the growth and prosperity of this country, but they will pass on those lessons on to their children, on to their grandchildren, will start a different cycle.”

Kids – even troubled kids – have a better shot at life after school by learning to deal with life in school.

 

 

Reader Comments 1

46 comments
RichardPerdue
RichardPerdue

there must be consequences and repercussions for actions

Carlos_Castillo
Carlos_Castillo

Dr. Steve Green's new direction for the district looks quite well thought out to me, particularly the emphasis on restorative justice, which models a dispute resolution procedure for kids who have been raised with no idea how to settle a dispute without resort to fighting.  Often, the adult coordinators of the program are no longer needed after the culture of the school changes toward reasoned settling of disputes.


It's also good to set out clear expectations periodically concerning bad behavior and the possible consequences.


What I'm left with is curiosity about how much hard exercise all kids get during the school day.  Personally I'd like to see a longer school day and more hard exercise periods so that excess energy that now goes into fooling around is worked off in those gym classes. In addition, the longer day leaves less free time available for kids to find their way to trouble outside of class.


Finally, I'd suggest that those who label groups on kids as "bad" haven't actually seen them first hand.  The problem is most often a toxic environment, which the district will also be putting more emphasis on mitigating.

Beach Bound2020
Beach Bound2020

In and out of school suspensions for middle and high school students have no marked effect or improvement on student behaviors. Many times they merely make it worse, as those generally suspended are already behind and taking them from the instructional environment only creates an on-going cycle of under-education for these students.


Punitive measures in MS and HS are merely band-aids on a situation that is already too late. The only real way to reduce suspensions in upper grades is to address likely to misbehave students in ES and proactively provide wrap-around services early and often.  And don't tell me that you cannot predict who in ES will wind up being the troubled students in MS and HS. Every early child educator can easily name the students that will wind up in the most trouble later in the education career.  Proactive, early and inclusive.  Until the money is spent there the poor educators at the MS and HS are only putting band aids on artery bleeds.

Starik
Starik

@Beach Bound2020 Yes, and the troubled kids need to be separated physically from the everyday cooperative kids.  Put them in an alternative school and require them to earn their way back to a normal school. PC be damned.

Wascatlady
Wascatlady

I'm not sure Mr. Green should be upset about the suspension rates.  At least his system does suspend students.


Now, he is right to examine why kids are being suspended.If it is for chewing gum in class, he should be upset.  If it is for behavior that would land an adult in jail--well, kids with those behaviors SHOULD be suspended.


Late to class--get a social worker, DFACS, etc, involved.  Assault another student, make terrorist threats, steal--those behaviors SHOULD result in suspension.


I agree with trying interventions BEFORE the behavior escalates.  After it goes so far, the best thing to do is protect the other students and the learning environment.


Unless he wants the schools to take on YET ANOTHER job which is not rightfully theirs.

tomkat1111
tomkat1111

Isn't Head Start suppose to get students tame enough to go to school ?

insideview
insideview

@starik, which predominantly black school do you work at, and how many black kids do you know? This is all part of the media slant to paint a narrative that ALL black kids are criminal and unruly. Yes, they do get suspended more, but this a choice administrators make. White kids commit the same offenses, they just don't get the same consequences. They enjoy white privilege , and give the benefit of the doubt...

Lee_CPA2
Lee_CPA2

@insideview

"They enjoy white privilege ,..."

ROFLMAO.   White privilege, the latest in a long line of excuses the politically correct uses to try to explain away the differences in black and white culture.

JBBrown1968
JBBrown1968

@insideview In schools where their are few white people, privilege is a ridiculous defense. At schools in Dekalb it is predominantly black men and women doing the discipline! All black crime on crime. Its pretty clear in school systems blacks are promoted to positions to stem the tide of white privilege. Black privilege is whining about injustice but still walking to the front of a job promotion without sufficient skills.


Starik
Starik

@insideview I worked in the court system, in the adult and juvenile systems.  I know black kids very well.  I know that all black kids are not criminal or unruly, but I'm absolutely certain that a small percentage are in big trouble and are big trouble for anybody they choose to victimize. I have also known a number of prison-bound black kids who are, or were at some point, salvageable.  Many are likeable. Many are intelligent.  A few are absolutely not salvageable and simply need to be locked up for the rest of their lives.


Of course, like everyone else my horizon was limited.  I saw kids in trouble. The kids I saw in juvenile court were often nice kids whose future was limited by bad parents, bad neighborhoods and bad schools.  Some simply can't be helped, but most could be helped if they receive intensive treatment before it's too late.


It's not a media slant.  White kids misbehave, bur in most cases they misbehave in a relatively harmless way.  Black kids commit armed robberies at a much greater rate than white kids.  Black kids are responsible for nearly all of the "gun violence" we see on the news. We do have white kids who commit terrible crimes, but that's true of any racial or cultural group.  Kids who grow up in a crime culture where "getting paid" means robbing somebody are doomed unless they are helped.


When these kids are suspended from school it's not a punishment at all.  It merely lets kids meet up with their friends (or fellow gangsters) to terrorize neighborhoods, often black neighborhoods and nearby mixed and white neighborhoods. We need programs in the school to help them while keeping them off the streets, at least during school hours.

insideview
insideview

@anothercomment, oops your racist stereotyping is showing. This is not true, all african americans don't respect authority, devalue education etc...just as not all white people are bigots....

Another comment
Another comment

I am sorry but the black community disrespects authority, law enrollment and education. They routinely distrupt the education of white and Asian students.. The only way to stop the cancer is to excise it. In the case of schools it is to suspend those who distrup

GA_and_Education_futile
GA_and_Education_futile

@Another comment 

Wow, so white kids don't do the exact same thing?  Where is your research on that statement?


I've worked around all kids via public education and through the Department of Family and Children Services.  Your statement is based off of pure ignorance of what happens in your own community. 


Have you traveled outside of the metro area?  Have you lived in the real north Georgia, middle Georgia, and south Georgia? 

You would be surprised at what goes on in those communities by the "good" white kids.  

Heck, why don't you volunteer at a "good" white school in your community.  You will see that, in instances where they (the "good" white kids) should be expelled or suspended, they won't be expelled or suspended.  As a citizen that cares about their own family (I'm talking about you), you wouldn't want your kids anywhere near these kids.

 

As a taxpayer, I want all these kids (black, white, Hispanic, Asian, etc) to be productive citizens.  Our communities will be safer because of it! 


Starik
Starik

@GA_and_Education_futile @Another comment We all have a different perspective depending on location; the problem in majority black areas is not the same as it is up in the mountains or other areas outside the Atlanta metro area.  Here, black kids are the problem.  Sure, there are bad white kids, and even Asian kids, but in very small numbers and they have a very small effect on the violent crime rate.

GA_and_Education_futile
GA_and_Education_futile

@Starik @GA_and_Education_futile @Another comment 

Again, working with different populations I have SEEN the evidence.  The white kids' disrespectful behavior is "explained away" while the black kids' behavior has severe consequences. 


My knowledge is from operating in a diverse world.

Sadly, white people don't have to take advantage of this opportunity. So your view is shaped through news organizations and your own limited history with people of color. 

 


 

GA_and_Education_futile
GA_and_Education_futile

@Starik @GA_and_Education_futile @Another comment 

Thank you for proving my point.  Have you watched the ID channel? They have many themes of murders, but I was aghast at the crimes that white people commit within their own families.  Why didn't these crimes make the national news?  One family killed their daughter in law, but get this...when the authorities finally figured out the crime, the young woman's remains filled a teacup...a teacup!

But yet you want to placate me with gun violence, armed robberies, burglaries, etc

All crime is bad no matter who commits it, but you will not pigeon hole me into thinking that black people commit more crimes or are more violent. No sir, the crimes that black people commit make the news.  While the crime that white people commit aren't reported with the same vigor as black crimes.  

Thank goodness for the ID channel but I can't watch it because it made me afraid of guess who...white people.


Lastly, you want to talk about gangs, ever heard of the KKK, the gangsters of the 1930s up to present, Bonnie and Clyde, the Georgia Militia Murders (Google that). 


I could literally go on but again, white crime is not reported with the same enthusiasm as white crime...I wonder why?

Starik
Starik

@GA_and_Education_futile @Starik @Another comment Are you suggesting that serious crime committed by whites isn't reported?  That white robbers are simply ignored by the police as a form of white privilege?  That's not the case.  In this area we have large numbers of black policemen who would be unlikely to cooperate with such a policy.

GA_and_Education_futile
GA_and_Education_futile

@Starik @GA_and_Education_futile @Another comment 

I am not suggesting but saying that the crimes are not reported with the same enthusiasm.  Which is to say all day long, a black face is posted on the news reminding society that black people, in general, are to be feared. 

For example, if I only watched the ID channel all day, I would be terrified of white people.  When I began to feel afraid, I stopped watching it because this is not true of all white people. Unlike you when you watch the news, I am able to pull back and then differentiate between sensationalism and reality. 

Lastly, please let's talk about policy.  Much of the discriminatory policy is unwritten and is implied, so how would it be proven anywhere?  You are sounding naive. 

If you have actually worked in the court system you already know how policy plays out when a defendant CAN afford to defend him/herself and what happens when a defendant CANNOT afford competent representation.

Starik
Starik

@GA_and_Education_futile @Starik @Another comment The news are very "sensitive," but when people are arrested for nasty offenses, or appear on surveillance video committing them, the race of the perpetrators is apparent. Usually, and ridiculously, as in the recent Cabbagetown robberies they report that the criminals "two males in their late 20s ran toward Memorial Drive."  I wonder what color they were?


ID tells takes of sensational, interesting crimes and investigations. Show biz. The local news shows local crime, as it happens. Stop off in your local courthouse and watch a felony arraignment. 


As to the quality of representation, that depends on the County involved. Some provide first rate representation for poor defendants - many do not.  Many of the defendants who hire attorneys hire bad ones who have no intention of going to trial.  After depleting grandma's retirement fund they withdraw and let the Public Defender's office investigate and try the case -  a good office will have good lawyers and investigators on staff. A really good  private law firm will have them too, but cost a whole lot.  

bu22
bu22

May not be his problem soon.  Deal's endorsement of APS efforts to change things may be a signal DeKalb will be the one who has a lot of schools taken over by the state.  They have been the least willing to change anything.

Lee_CPA2
Lee_CPA2

Gee, for the life of me, I can't understand why white people fought school integration back in the 60's or why "white flight" occurred when neighborhoods began turning dark.  {{{sarcasm}}}

From the article that was linked above, it shows that several schools had more suspensions than number of students.  Yep, all were ~98% or more black.

Show me a 98% white school with the same behavior issues.  That's right, you can't.  And before the politically correct apologists get started, no, it is not about poverty either.  In the poorest regions of Appalachia, you don't have these same behavior issues from poor whites.

Blacks being blacks.  Nothing new here.  Black lives matter, blah, blah, blah.

Lee_CPA2
Lee_CPA2

@insideview

I just can't find a 98% white school anywhere that suspends more kids than they have enrolled.

Imagine that....

JBBrown1968
JBBrown1968

Yes Sir...... Requiring your staff to use a five step or Forty Five step intervention system will improve your district's discipline report card to the state, but will not address the real issues. Look at that assault case in Athens, I am willing to bet they have a very dynamic multi step discipline program they are very proud of!  


Our current disciplinary system disproportionately punishes male students of color. More black young men — and a higher percentage of black young men —  receive discipline than any other group in public schools."


Being a black man myself! I am ashamed that an educated black man in the 21st Century is still using the victim card. Yes, there are racial problems and young black men receive harsh and unfair punishments! Why? Some racism, and sometimes not having a two parent home! When white people's kids get into trouble they demand fair treatment and threaten lawsuits and call board members. Most young black men are not afforded that luxury and that clearly is not in the control of white people. 

Finally, in my school system in Chicago I was always suspend by a middle aged black man. 

Is it any different in the Dekalb County Schools?

JBBrown1968
JBBrown1968

Excuse me I meant to say people without color! Not white people.

Wascatlady
Wascatlady

@JBBrown1968 No such things as "white" people or "people without color!"  Put a piece of actually white paper next to a "white" person and tell me they are white.  Of course they are not! We are all gradations of beige/brown/black.

bu22
bu22

@Wascatlady @JBBrown1968 I always find that term "people of color" annoying.   Other than politicians, you don't hear Asians or Hispanics using that term.

Cere
Cere

The school system should not be so punitive - they should instead be teaching life skills. Whether or not it is truly their responsibility is not relevant. School and church are the only places some kids will get the mentoring they need in order to grow into good citizens. We are feeding far too many young people directly to the prison pipeline in DeKalb. It's a horror we should hang our heads in shame over -- regardless of these students parents/home lives. 


I just served on a jury for a trial against a 22 year old African-American man who has a good job driving a beer delivery truck.  He had fallen asleep at the wheel of his car while waiting at a stoplight on the way home from his friend's house late on a Friday night. Police were called. The charge:  "DUI-drugs-less than safe". The drug? Nyquil. The only 'evidence' was given by the African-American police officer who said that when he checked the defendant's eyes, he saw a jerking motion, indicating impairment according to the officer's special two days training. [This test is not admissible in some states, but it is in Georgia.] The officer testified as to his opinion and extra training in this area but in the end, all we really had was the opinion of the police officer. The defendant, who testified for himself, said he was simply tired, had had a cold all week and in fact had visited the doctor. He had been taking Dayquil and Nyquil for several days for his cold. No breathalyzer test was done. No blood test was done. We were expected to find him guilty strictly based on this "eye test" and the officer's testimony about his bloodshot eyes and sleepiness and send him back to jail, take away his license and livelihood and essentially ruin his life.

We the jury, unanimously found him not guilty after a 5 minute discussion. We were, quite frankly, appalled at the DeKalb prosecutor's pursuit of this case and willingness to throw away a young black man's future. It was all very eye-opening as to the aggressive actions by the state and our county to put people in jail - people who have the capacity to live a good life and learn skills and values necessary to be good citizens and take care of their families. But too often, we nip that in the bud and sentence them to life in the penal system instead.

HowdyJune
HowdyJune

@Cere Cere - thanks for sharing.  It is ashamed that the prosecutor did not see what the jury saw. 

JBBrown1968
JBBrown1968

@Cere Life is punitive! The shame is some young black men are raised cradle to grave to believe that being black is a disability, and that the rest of the civilized world is at fault.

redweather
redweather

But how much can the school system be responsible for? Every time I see an article like this my first question is, what about the parents of these children?


Can public school systems meet every student's needs in every conceivable way?  The answer is obvious to me. The public schools cannot be expected to right the wrongs of inattentive (or worse) parents. At some point we have got to admit that the public schools are not, and never were intended to be, surrogate parents. That should be the starting point.

Starik
Starik

@redweather While kids are at school the school stands "in loco parentis" and does assume the role of parent.  The kids spend many hours a day in school, supervised by professional people who have expertise in education.  Parents play a biological role, just as adult squirrels and dogs and cats and rats do, in creating the kids.  Even the stupidest, most immoral and criminal among us can have kids. Easily. There's no test, or license to have kids and the State intervenes rarely and ineffectively.  The schools are all there is.

Starik
Starik

Good for Dr. Green.  He seems to be taking the correct approach to suspension rates - black kids are suspended disproportionately because they misbehave more often and in serious ways.  If he can devise a way to keep troubled kids in the school while treating their poor behavior he can do a lot of good.

JBBrown1968
JBBrown1968

@Starik And it will will not dramatically alter the education of the other students because everyone will be able to learn......people of color or without!

JBBrown1968
JBBrown1968

@CSpinks @JBBrown1968 @Starik Because everyone is intellectually the same. Everyone must pass the same test. It is racist when all classrooms don't look like the a rainbow. My son is black and the school tells him be proud of your heritage. My nephew is white and he is labeled racist and is taught not to honor his heritage because it will hurt black people. My son and my nephew seem to enjoy each other. 

Not allowing my nephew to stand up as a man and be proud is short sided.

What I tell my son and nephew both man up or fall behind!

Finally, sometimes classrooms should not promote differences  just learning.

I would love too see an all black male classroom that was not weightlifting or gym.

bu22
bu22

@Starik He is right that suspension should not be a first resort.  The DeKalb discipline policy is written so that they can basically do whatever they want.  They can suspend quickly-or not.  It is written so that it can be arbitrarily applied.  They make the parents and kids sign it.  Its a massive document that they want turned around in just a day or two.  I always find it offensive.

CSpinks
CSpinks

@JBBrown1968 @Starik Our public schools must provide our kids more options than the traditional classroom or the street. Why hasn't GaPubEd devised more alternative educational options than the latter? Alternative education shouldn't be limited to the punitive variety but extended to options that met the psycho-social needs of many of these kids kicked to the curbs of our state's cities and towns. Myopic exclusionary policies promise severe personal, economic, social and moral damage down the road. Why should we elect to be so short-sighted?