Community Comes Together to Discuss School Discipline - WBOC-TV 16, Delmarvas News Leader, FOX 21 -

Community Comes Together to Discuss School Discipline

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(Photo: MGN) (Photo: MGN)

GEORGETOWN, De. - How much punishment is too much punishment? That's the question that a coalition of community groups were looking to answer at a meeting Thursday evening. Shannon Griffin, The Community and Project Organizer at the Delaware American Civil Liberties Union was the main speaker at the event, and she said that there remains "excessive punishment" within the first state's schools.

The meeting took place at 5:30 at the First State Community Action Agency in Georgetown. That organization hosted the Coalition for Fairness & Equity in Schools, along with the ACLU. The speakers argued that discipline policies "disproportionately affect students of color or with disabilities," adding that it pushes children out of school by "criminalizing minor infractions.

"If they're supposed to be in school," said Kaneisha Trott from First State Community Action. "Then we want them to stay in school. And to learn, and to get an education. But if they're suspended and at home, then they're not getting that. That's the problem."

According to the ACLU, of the 14 thousand out-of-school suspensions in Delaware in 2013, more than 2/3 of them were for what they call "low-level offenses." Those offenses include being under-prepared for class, dress code violations, or inappropriate behavior. That compared to only two percent for serious offenses like drugs, weapons, or violence.

"Students must be accountable," said Griffin. "But kicking them out of class is not the answer."

At Sussex Central High School, Principal Bradley Layfield said that it was important to maintain preventative action, as the ACLU was calling for. However, he said that punitive actions were also necessary to keep kids in line.

"When students make the unfortunate choice," Bradley said. "That they're going to disrupt the classroom environment of the students who do want to learn, then the great majority of parents want something done to benefit their child who is there to learn."

At the meeting was a teacher of 15 years in Sussex County, Denise Waples, who thinks more diversity training for teachers would help improve communication with minority students.

"You just have to find out what that child is dealing with and reach that child where they are," said Waples. "You don't know if they had a place to sleep last night or if they had dinner last night," she said.

In her work experience, some of Waples' students have come from unstable homes where the parents may not have been as involved in the student's life for several reasons. As a result, Waples said the student may not be as responsive to traditional teaching tactics and other ways to reach a student are necessary.

Dwayne Powell, another education advocate who attended the meeting said he views equal treatment of students as a human rights issue.

"It comes down to, do we actually value human life," said Powell speaking of not just African American and Hispanic communities but of lower income Caucasian communities as well. "And do we actually want to value that to the point of making sure every child gets a quality education," Powell said.

The meeting attendees agreed hosting several sessions to discuss how to work with schools and teachers to lessen excessive discipline will happen later in December.

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