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Audit finds Black students in Lansing schools twice as likely to be suspended than white peers

clasroom
Alec Gerstenberger
/
WKAR-MSU
Lansing Eastern High School.

A recent audit found students of color in the Lansing School District are more than twice as likely to be suspended than their white peers.

San Francisco-based education research firm, WestEd analyzed longstanding inequities in the district in the initial report that was unveiled at a board of education meeting this month.

WKAR's Megan Schellong spoke with Lansing State Journal reporter Mark Johnson, who covers K-12 education in the region, to discuss takeaways from the report.

Interview Highlights

On the events that prompted the audit

So, this happened at the time, as you'll remember, shortly after the police killing of George Floyd, which sparked the movement that we saw that summer concerning racial equities and racial justice. At the same time, this also happened shortly after the death of Eva Evans. She was a former Lansing School District teacher, the district's first female deputy superintendent, and she was a leading civil rights advocate. At the same time, the school district officials knew that there had been some inequities. So, this was kind of what, at least is my understanding, kind of pushed them over the edge and decided to pursue this.

On why Black students are twice as likely to be suspended than their white peers

Some of the causes that kind of stuck out to me: it talked about bias-based beliefs and stereotypes held by school district teachers, officials, they didn't go into specifics and name who they were, but just mentioned, the existence of those biases and stereotypes, as well as their parents and caregivers weren't included in the disciplinary process, as well as students themselves. And then in addition to that, they talked about how district and school behavior policies kind of reflect white-dominant cultural norms.

Interview Transcript

Megan Schellong: A recent audit found students of color in the Lansing School District are more than twice as likely to be suspended than their white peers.

San Francisco-based education research firm, WestEd analyzed longstanding inequities in the district in the initial report that was unveiled at a board of education meeting this month.

Lansing State Journal reporter Mark Johnson covers K through 12 education in the region and joins me now to discuss takeaways from the report.

Mark, thanks for joining me.

Mark Johnson: Yeah, thanks for having me.

mark johnson lansing state journal
Courtesy
/
Mark Johnson
Lansing State Journal reporter Mark Johnson.

Schellong: The Board of Education ordered this audit back in 2020. Was there something that prompted it?

Johnson: So, this happened at the time, as you'll remember, shortly after the police killing of George Floyd, which sparked the movement that we saw that summer concerning racial equities and racial justice. At the same time, this also happened shortly after the death of Eva Evans. She was a former Lansing School District teacher, the district's first female deputy superintendent, and she was a leading civil rights advocate. At the same time, the school district officials knew that there had been some inequities. So, this was kind of what, at least is my understanding, kind of pushed them over the edge and decided to pursue this.

Schellong: We're talking about racial justice and equity. The report found Black students and students who are two or more races have double the risk of suspension compared to their white peers. So, what are some of the root causes that explain why this is happening?

Johnson: So, they did a nice job of kind of going through the different root causes in the report. Some of the causes that kind of stuck out to me: it talked about bias-based beliefs and stereotypes held by school district teachers, officials, they didn't go into specifics and name who they were, but just mentioned, the existence of those biases and stereotypes, as well as their parents and caregivers weren't included in the disciplinary process, as well as students themselves.

And then in addition to that, they talked about how district and school behavior policies kind of reflect white-dominant cultural norms. So, it just kind of made a list of things that ultimately led to this with really a focus on the students themselves and the parents not being included in the disciplinary process.

Schellong: How has the school district responded so far? Are they accepting responsibility? Or is there any pushback from administration?

Johnson: As far as I've heard, I have yet to hear any pushback. Even going into this, we knew that there was going to be some pretty startling discoveries. These are things that have been, school officials have known. I mean, going back to the meeting in July 2020, when they first announced this, they talked, they knew there were some inequities and some issues going on.

And the first step was really getting this audit to you know, put in black and white, you know, what these inequities and problems are.

So,, at the meeting, they had a, there's an equity committee, I think it's about 20 school district staff, members the community, that kind of talked about each of the different issues, and everyone really accepted it at the end of the meeting, definitely didn't deny what was going on and all agreed that, you know, they really need to focus on these and look at these recommendations and start making some changes.

Schellong: The district just recently canceled nearly $93,000 in library fees in response to the audit’s findings that those fees are associated with limited access to books. What other changes might we see soon?

Johnson: I was speaking with the Everett High School librarian, teacher librarian, Joy Curry. And she talked about there being some meetings once they come back from spring break, and they're going to begin writing new rental policies, and look at different ways to be able to look at this issue without penalizing students.

Schellong: So, the main thing that they need to now take a look at is, "oh, okay, we were making $93,000 off of missing book fees, where are we going to get that money from?"

Johnson: Back in March 2020, just as COVID was making its impact here, and the governor announced that schools will be closing anyway for the foreseeable future, leading up to that last day, some librarians were encouraging students to take out as many books as they wanted, knowing that they didn't know when they'd be back again, so they were more than happy to see the kids take as many books out as they needed. But as a result, not all of those books have come back, which, ultimately likely, played a big role in that number.

So, we don't really know how big that will be, if that's just a misnomer, because of COVID or what, but yeah, they are going to be looking again at different ways, how they can, you know, adjust their budgets, if there's different rental policies they can do.

I know one thing they talked about they’ve been doing already is really focusing on positive reinforcement. So, if I'm a student, and I wanted to rent out a book, and I don't have any overdue library items, I'll get a piece of candy or I'll get entered into a drawing.

So, just kind of that positive reinforcement for returning your books on time.

Schellong: Mark Johnson is a Lansing State Journal reporter covering K through 12 education. Mark, thanks for joining me.

Johnson: Yeah, thanks again for having me.

This conversation has been edited for clarity and conciseness.

Megan Schellong is the local host and producer for Morning Edition on WKAR.
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