Data since '17 show nonwhites get more detentions

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“Building and district administrators have been tasked with identifying practices and strategies that will provide systematic reform.”

-- Roderick MacNeal Jr.

A review of Arlington Public Schools' detention data for the last three years revealed that African-American, Hispanic and mixed-race students received a disproportionate number of detentions.

The review was presented by Assistant Superintendent Dr. Roderick MacNeal Jr. at the School Committee’s meeting on Thursday, June 25.

“The process of examination has highlighted the painful truth that our black and brown students are the recipients of discipline consequences at a disproportionate rate,” MacNeal said. “As a result, building and district administrators have been tasked with identifying practices and strategies that will provide systematic reform.”

At Arlington High School, African-American students made up about 4 percent of the school population over the past three years, but accounted for 14.85 percent of detentions in 2017-18, 9.79 percent of detentions in 2018-19 and 17 percent of detentions in 2019-20.

Hispanics at the high school, who make up about 6 percent of the school population, received 13.09 percent of detentions in 2017-18, 12.41 percent of detentions in 2018-19 and 12.25 percent of detentions in 2019-20.

White and Asian students typically accounted for a disproportionately low share of detentions, in relation to their percentage of the student population.

Ottoson numbers

Students of color were also disproportionately represented in detentions at Ottoson Middle School, which now serves seventh and eighth graders, and also served sixth graders during the 2017-18 academic year. During the past three years, African-American students have made up about 3.5 percent of the school population, but accounted for 26 percent of detentions in 2017-18, 11 percent in 2018-19 and 10 percent of detentions in 2019-20.

Ottoson Middle School staff received professional development related to this issue, said Principal Brian Meringer, including reading The Behavior Code: A Practical Guide to Understanding and Teaching the Most Challenging Students by Jessica Minehan and Power of Our Words by Paula Denton and watching the documentary “American Promises,” which followed two African-American students in a majority-white private white school.

“I do think detention has a negative connotation,” Meringer said. “Many times if you receive a detention but instead you want to have extra help with a teacher, that is allowed. We do understand that detention is hopefully not a punishment, not a shame, but it is a consequence, but we are trying to build you back up.”

At Gibbs

At the Gibbs School, which serves sixth graders, detentions are rarely used, said Assistant Principal Wendy Salvatore. Instead, students who violate school expectations may receive “logical-consequences” slips. 

During the 2018-19 school year, 27 logical-consequences slips were given out. That increased to 37 during the 2019-20 school year. In the future, Gibbs needs to track the demographics of subcategories that receive logical-consequence slips, Salvatore said.

MacNeal said the district has received a number of grants to support its equity work, including funds to have a contract for “an outside consultant to conduct an equity audit of the district’s K-12 curriculum to ensure that the resources used for instruction are inclusive of all cultures and devoid of misinformation and prejudicial material that may represent specific cultures in a demeaning manner.”

“Despite the efforts that have taken place thus far, we openly acknowledge that much more work must be done to reach our goal of providing an equitable learning environment in which all students have an equal opportunity to be successful,” MacNeal said.

The issue came before the committee after a former school data specialist said that the superintendent asked him in 2017 not to dig too deeply into discipline data.

Back-to-school issues

The committee also discussed new guidance from the state Department of Education about students’ return to school in the fall.

“The primary message from the Department of Education is that they are really advocating for a safe return to school for as many students as possible,” said Superintendent Kathleen Bodie. “There’s not a real great substitute for in-school learning. To the extent that we can have students back in the classroom, that would be the ideal.”

The state report said that students in grades two and above will be required to wear masks throughout the school day, although some mask breaks will be scheduled in. Students in kindergarten and first grade will be encouraged, but not required, to wear masks. Students will also be required to wear masks while riding the bus.

The guidelines also state that students will need to maintain a three-foot distance, rather than the six feet recommended by the Centers for Disease Control.

“What research is showing is that for students in this wide age group, that three feet is a social distance that we can go to. What we are going to be looking at is how many students’ desks can be placed in a classroom,” Bodie said.

Students will also have the option to learn remotely in the fall, Bodie said. The details of remote learning are not complete.

A survey of 650 students in grades 6 through 12 showed that this past spring, 46.5 percent of students prefer to attend a Google Meet and listen to their teacher explain a lesson in real time, while 66 percent of students prefer to watch a video when it is convenient to them. 

Of those who did not participate in online learning, 42 percent said they did not participate because the assignments did not count for a grade.

Human Rights Commission

The committee unanimously appointed two women to three-year terms on the Arlington Human Rights Commission. The two final choices were whittled down from an applicant pool of 21, said committee member Bill Hayner.

Kathy Rogers, a 30-year Arlington resident, was reappointed to the commission. She started serving as a member of the group 10 months ago when a position was vacated. Hina Jollin, a five-year resident with two young sons, was also appointed.

“I really wanted to get involved with the community and establish roots in the town,” Jollin said.

June 17, 2020: What shape will school take this fall? Some urge reopening, as state eyes hybrid

May 31, 2020: Participation in online education varies by grade, Bodie says
May 17, 2020: Committee votes to urge increase in live video teaching; Gibbs candidates interviewed
May 3, 2020: Students average about half of recommended time on remote learning, survey says
April 11, 2020: April school break canceled; online classes continue
March 25, 2020: Remote learning during shutdown discussed; geothermal wells scrapped

This news summary by YourArlington freelancer Julia Preszler was published Wednesday, July 8, 2020.  

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