ACLU of North Carolina report highlights racial disparities in school disorderly conduct complaints

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Friday, October 20, 2023
ACLU NC report shows racial disparities in student conduct complaints
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A new report from the ACLU of NC found that Black students receive disorderly conduct complaints four times more often than their White counterparts

RALEIGH, N.C. (WTVD) -- A new report from the ACLU of North Carolina found that Black students receive disorderly conduct complaints four times more often than their White counterparts.

"Unfortunately, it wasn't surprising to me," said Michele Delgado, a staff attorney with the ACLU of North Carolina.

The 29-page report found that though the level of disparities varied by district, the issue itself was felt statewide. It also noted that students with disabilities were referred by schools to law enforcement two-and-a-half times more often than students without disabilities.

"It is really creating an environment that makes students feel unsafe and unsupported. It creates distrust, especially with law enforcement in schools and students should feel safe in an environment meant for learning. And they're not feeling that," said Delgado.

Delgado offered a number of suggestions to reduce both the disparities and prevent the escalation of in-school problems.

"They can start by decriminalizing children's childish behavior. Let's stop the use of the disorderly conduct statute in schools. Let's invest and expand partnerships with community health care workers and mental health providers, (and) really support students mentally and emotionally," Delgado said.

"Police should be called on an as-needed basis, but should not have a regular presence in the schools," added Fernando Martinez, who serves as Director of Organizing for Education Justice Alliance.

The Raleigh-based nonprofit believes districts should focus funding toward more school counselors, and suggests implementing a "Peacebuilder" program to respond to behavioral episodes.

"They are equipped and trained with de-escalation techniques, with active listening, with restorative justice practices. They also are trained with techniques to how to build deeper relationship with the young people," said Martinez.

Delon Fletcher, a father of two, backed strengthening relationships between schools, students, and parents.

"(Schools are) suspending them as a response to what's taking place in classrooms. But do we understand what's happening in the home? Are we understanding whether or not that students had an opportunity to have a full meal or understanding whether or not that student is able to digest the content which is being administered," said Fletcher.

He's concerned about the long-term effect of escalated disciplinary matters.

"These are the next doctors, leaders, engineers, community activists, voices, psychologists, therapists. But if you end up getting railroaded because of your constant discipline (or) suspensions, the data already tells what happens when students are victims of chronic suspensions," said Fletcher.

Fletcher, who serves on the State Superintendent's Parent Advisory Committee, feels proactive action will lead to better outcomes.

"If we become punitive in our response to keeping our classroom in order then we are not really doing our best to serve those kids and deliver them a quality education," said Fletcher.