School disciplinary practices and the inequities they highlight are one of the major issues parents and stakeholders are paying attention to as the upcoming election for Atlanta Board of Education nears.
For a district that was 72.2% Black in 2022, Black students made up 93.5% of out-of-school suspensions and 100% of expulsions. These numbers are not only consistent with national trends — where Black students are much more likely to face such disciplinary actions compared to their white counterparts — but also highlight local concerns about fairness and equity in APS.
Capital B Atlanta contacted all 10 of the APS board candidates to understand their perspectives on school disciplinary practices. Each of the seven candidates who responded agreed that racial disparities were a problem at APS. We asked them to elaborate on what they believe are the root causes and potential solutions.
Here’s what they had to say.
District 1 candidate Katie Howard, an incumbent who is running unopposed, said part of the issue is students not hitting their literacy and numeracy goals.
Raynard Johnson, a candidate for District 5, had a similar idea about the root problems that cause school disciplinary issues.
“Kids would rather act out and get a school suspension” than admit they can’t read, Johnson said.
Last year, only 25% of APS eighth-graders were reading at or above grade level.
District 7 At-Large candidate Tamara Jones, who is a current board member, and one of her challengers, William Sardin, pointed to factors outside the classroom that might affect Black students in school and cause some to act out.
“When children are not having their needs met, it’s hard for them to regulate their emotions. And unfortunately, in our city, race often correlates with socioeconomic status more than it should,” Jones said.
District 9 At-Large candidate Nkoyo Effiong Lewis said that implicit bias likely plays a role in why these racial disparities exist, and pointed out how vague language in the student code of conduct can mean students may receive different consequences for the same mistake.
“One of the things that I am excited to build upon is … ensuring that we are very, very thoughtful before we remove students from schools,” Lewis said.
MORE ON THE SCHOOL BOARD ELECTION FROM CAPITAL B ATLANTA
District 3 candidate and sitting board member Michelle Olympiadis said she is a proponent of schools working with families and students who have disciplinary issues while they’re still in elementary and middle school before the behavior spreads.
“In my opinion, the school’s responsibility or the administration’s responsibility is to provide them with support to help them bridge over the challenges that they’re having,” she said.
Ken Zeff, another District 3 candidate, also spoke about making sure teachers have the support they need to be able to keep all students in the classroom without compromising the curriculum.
“I think when we send the kid home, then we’re furthering them from the learning opportunity and then we’re not getting them the support they need to be successful in the K-12 program,” Zeff said.
Sardin, one of several candidates vying for the District 7 seat, also spoke about early intervention as a strategy for addressing behavioral issues.
“Having more counseling available, and just really looking at that and treating the whole person instead of waiting until the issues arise. The further away you get from the onset of the issue, the greater the problem actually is,” Sardin said.
Similarly, Lewis and Howard suggested providing training and support for teachers who have to manage an entire classroom, not just one student who may be acting out.
Implementing restorative justice practices was another solution many of the candidates suggested as a way to handle disciplinary problems, including Jones, the board member Sardin is trying to unseat in District 7.
“We need to look at it as how do we support children, even when they might make a bad choice, correct them, repair relationships, and restore them back onto the right path,” Jones said.
She also called for more trauma-informed policies and thinks that by focusing on the underlying causes of bad behavior, the district can help to mitigate disciplinary problems before they come up.
Johnson suggested the district set up a restorative justice board to deal with disciplinary issues.
“There should be some alternatives to suspensions. Back in my day, you just raked leaves at the school campus on the weekend,” he said.
The District 5 challenger also said he wants APS to invest more into workforce development programs, specifically for students whose bad behavior in the classroom is a symptom of a learning disability like dyslexia.
Three candidates did not respond to questions from Capital B Atlanta by deadline: District 5 incumbent Erika Mitchell, District 7 challenger Alfred “Shivy” Brooks, and Jessica Johnson, an incumbent vying for another term in District 9. We will update this article with their responses if we get them.