jefferson parish schools-> systemic racism
Posted in the Tuscaloosa Forum
#1 Feb 15, 2013
JEFFERSON PARISH SCHOOLS-> SYSTEMIC RACISM
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In Jefferson schools, a systemic racism: A guest column by Katie Schwartzmann on June 02, 2012 at 6:20 AM
As Times-Picayune readers may have seen, the Southern Poverty Law Center recently brought Jefferson Parish school psychologist Mark Traina's racist comments to the attention of the Department of Education and asked it to investigate. For those who missed it, Traina tweeted that "Young Black Thugs" should be "(p)ut down like the Dogs they are" instead of incarcerated.
traina.jpgView full sizeWDSU-TVMark Traina
Traina, who is white, has referred to himself as a "Wallace Man at Heart," a reference to former Alabama Gov. George Wallace's staunch segregationist stance. Unfortunately, Traina participated in decisions related to students' placement in alternative schools, including several students in the law center's recent complaint. He has since resigned.
There has been appropriate public outrage over Traina's comments. It is a problem, after all, to have someone who believes in segregation making decisions about where black children go to school. But we also should remember that Mark Traina is just one individual. The problems in Jefferson Parish schools are bigger than he is. Children are being pushed into the prison system because of a system-wide failure that warrants an honest examination of the more subtle forms of racism that are at work.
In the Jefferson Parish public school system, typical teenage misbehavior, such as horseplay or cursing, doesn't result in a trip to the principal's office -- at least not for black students. Instead, they are arrested or sent to alternative schools where they often languish for months or even years. Alternative school resembles a real "school" in name only. Students sit at a computer for hours, working through a series of online courses. The teacher is only there to answer questions. There's no instruction, no classroom discussions or extracurricular activities. No accommodations are made for students with disabilities.
Black students account for 78 percent of all the district's alternative school referrals and arrests. But they are only 46 percent of the district's student population.
This isn't about bad kids getting the punishment they deserve. There's no evidence that lopsided discipline rates are due to black students inherently behaving worse. There is no doubt that white students engage in horseplay and cursing. This is about discriminatory attitudes and policies that treat minor misbehavior by black youth as criminal. Much of this discrimination is born out of assumptions and fear, particularly in regard to young black men.
Traina's comments were outrageous. When a school official holds such views, there's little doubt it can harm students of color. But what's happening in Jefferson Parish cannot be blamed on one person. You don't need to shout your prejudices from a mountaintop -- or post them online -- to derail young lives.
These problems in Jefferson Parish -- and in other school districts -- are systemic. They're the result of discipline policies that criminalize typical student misbehavior. They're the result of assumptions that cast any misbehavior by a youth of color as proof of inherent criminality. We see it in Jefferson Parish's schools. And we see it elsewhere in statistics that show black youths are much more likely to be stopped by police and to be arrested than their white peers for similar offenses.
When we treat students of color like criminals, we -- the adults -- set them up for failure. If we value the potential of all children, we must end school policies that groom them for failure. The cost of inaction is simply too high.
Katie Schwartzmann is the managing attorney for the Southern Poverty Law Center's Louisiana office.
fatuous1 is a "REALIST"!
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