Despite new rules on school discipline, change isn't coming fast enough for families.
Most reporting on school discipline shows a distinct skew in suspension rates, with African-American students racking up high numbers and data that imply Asians rarely fight, backtalk or get tossed from class.
“The model minority,” said Courtney Chappell, regional director for the White House Initiative on Asian Americans and Pacific Islanders, shaking her head to indicate the broad-brush fallacy of that stereotype.
Anecdotally, Asians report harassment at alarming rates, Chappell told a group of fifty parents, educators and attorneys gathered last Saturday at El Centro de la Raza community center on Beacon Hill to talk about school discipline and its close cousin, bullying.
Dropout rates, too, are high among certain Asian sub-groups, but appear nearly invisible when lumped under the broad heading Asian.
“We don’t try to make waves. We don’t speak up,” concurred federal attorney Sukien Luu, who supervises a team of investigators with the U.S. Department of Education Office for Civil Rights and has seen this damaging tendency within her own family.
Inexact data was among several topics discussed at the meeting, led by Asian, Latino and black advocates, all of whom expressed concern about the effect of suspension on students. Meanwhile, Seattle is entering a fourth year under federal investigation for its discipline policies — and no findings have yet been announced, at least publicly.
“We’ve been aware of this issue for a while,” Luu said.
The hard-to-see realities are attracting increased attention from state and federal officials, in part because patterns in suspension mirror gaps in performance between students of different ethnic groups. Overall, Washington kids missed 130,000 days of instruction due to suspension and expulsion during the 2012-13 school year, according to an analysis by the nonprofit Washington Appleseed.
And while teachers do not make the call on who gets sent home, they came under heavy fire at the El Centro meeting for tossing kids out of class to wait in the halls — a practice rarely tracked on school discipline forms.
Washington legislators have recently tackled these issues, passing several regulations around bullying and reconnecting suspended students with classwork. But the measures are inconsistently applied, and no district is required to provide tutoring to students who have been removed from school
“I think we’ve got a lot of work to do,” said Jennifer Harris, an attorney with the Office of the Education Ombuds, which was created as an independent referee between Washington families and schools. “But it’s like trying to turn an ocean liner.”