Bodie denies claim about racial data made by former specialist

A former data specialist for the Arlington Public Schools who is black has alleged in a video posted to social media that the school superintendent asked him not to dig too deeply into district racial data after he said he questioned its integrity.

School Committee logoRemy

Kathleen BodieBodie

Asked about the explosive claim, Superintendent Kathleen Bodie emphatically denied she said that during the employement of Jean Mike Remy from 2015 to 2017. In a statement to YourArlington, she wrote, "The former employee’s allegations are not accurate; at no time did I say that we were not going to look deeply at the data because we have done so for many years."

Remy makes his claims in a 6:26-minute Instagram video, which you can watch here >> In the video, he says that "he just wants to speak this truth, especially today."

That includes describing his work collecting sensitive data about race and discipline for state and federal reports. He says the data with which he worked "was in such disarray," in 2016-17, and he sought to "improve the data integrity to make sure we had actionable numbers." He said that while compiling numbers for a Civil Right Data Collection report, he saw that, of about 1,400 students in the district, 3 percent were black, Hispanic or special education, but they reflected 80 percent of the suspensions and expulsions.

Number corrected

In a discussion about this on a Facebook group May 31, a friend noted that Remy misspoke and had intended to say 13 percent, not 3 percent.

The friend has passed along a message from YourArlington to Remy, asking for his comment.

In her June 1 statement, Bodie wrote the school administration has been made aware of "serious allegations concerning the school district’s disciplinary data with regard to students of color. The video also alleges that the former employee brought concerning information to the superintendent and was rebuffed.

"The former employee’s allegations are not accurate; we did delve into the data and have done so for many years.

"Additionally, to comply with state and federal law, we cannot share discipline spreadsheets publicly that contain student names even if student names are redacted because the descriptions of incidents can reveal the identity of the students. The reports to the state and federal governments transmit the data by a variety of student descriptors and types of incident."

The statement provides this background without naming Remy: He worked for the town's public schools from July 1, 2015, to March 17, 2017. Hired as the district registration coordinator, he also worked with the district data specialist on some data reporting. He did not report directly to the superintendent but to the assistant superintendent.

Part of this former employee’s job was to help the school district develop better systems to track disciplinary cases and to write the annual discipline report from the data.

'Disproportionality'

"The Arlington Public Schools have long battled the issue of disproportionality," the statement says. "We are unfortunately not alone in this. School districts around the nation and the Commonwealth have long sought ways to improve its disciplinary policies and the application of such policies so that they do not unfairly affect students of color.

"The district has been aware of, and has discussed in multiple public meetings, the issue of reducing the disproportionality of students of color being disciplined and suspended by the district since at least 2014 and has spent thousands of hours and tens of thousands of dollars developing systems and policies, completing training programs, working with consultants, creating monthly discipline data reports for principals, and measuring the efficacy of these efforts.

"This is an ongoing mission of the district, one that the district has been transparent about and has discussed in public for many years."

Bodie said this work has also led to instituting such programs as “Collaborative Problem Solving” in the high school three years ago, which has led to a dramatic decrease in the number of non-drug-related suspensions.

More recent numbers

The statement offers these numbers: At Arlington High School, from the 2017-2018 school year to 2018-2019 -- the last full school year report -- the total number of suspensions dropped by 28 percent (from 47 to 34). In the past two school years (2017-2018 and 2018-2019) the number of African American students suspended decreased by 77 percent (from 13 to 3).

"Despite these changes, there still remains disproportionality with respect to relative percentages of total student population," the statement says.

In the 2018-2019 school year, the 18 white students suspended represented 1.7 percent of the student population; the three black students represented 2.1 percent, the statement says.

"If you combine the categories of black, Hispanic and other/mixed, 12 students were suspended, representing 8.6 percent of the total number of black, Hispanic and other/mixed students in the student population. The total number of suspensions per category can differ slightly from the number of students suspended, if the same student was suspended twice.

"These numbers are encouraging, but there remains work to do. What is most important, however, this shows a multiyear, multifaceted, ongoing effort to address disproportionality in the school district. The issue did not suddenly become apparent to the district in a meeting or in a social media post."

Looking at internal biases

The statement adds: "The district's response to the discipline data and the achievement gap has been to look at our own internal biases and practices to create learning environments in schools where all students feel that they belong and are appreciated for who they are. We have been committed to antiracist and cultural proficiency professional development for staff for many years.

"We are proud of the progress we have made, and we are not slowing down."

Calling disproportionality in a school district "an extremely serious topic, one that requires diligent work at all levels of the district to overcome," the statements adds that the matter has been discussed in numerous open meetings, including a Nov. 19, 2014, Human Rights Commission meeting; a meeting on Feb. 9, 2015, attended by Dr. Bodie with members of the School Committee and Human Rights Commission; and a Dec. 8, 2016, School Committee meeting. In the latter meeting, Remy presented suspension and disciplinary data publicly to the School Committee. View that meeting here >

The issue was most recently discussed at a School Committee meeting in January as covered by Your Arlington

Superintendent Bodie and Assistant Superintendent Roderick MacNeal Jr. say they are willing to discuss this topic with any member of our community. The district will answer any questions it can in an open and transparent way and is always open to new ideas, programs or partnerships that will decrease the achievement gap and make the Arlington Public Schools the best possible community and learning environment possible for all of its students.

In a related matter, on Sunday, May 31, after Remy's video appeared on social media, the Lynette Martyn campaign sent an email to supporters about it. The email does not indicate an effort to get the superintendent's side to the story. Martyn is seeking one of three School Committee seats in the Saturday, June 6, election.


This news summary was published Monday, June 1, 2020.

 
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