MPS board strikes controversial language from new discipline policy

Posted at 10:33 PM, May 31, 2018
and last updated 2018-05-31 23:33:35-04

The MPS Board of Directors on Thursday adopted new policies when it comes to discipline in schools, but left out one line that drew concern from a student-led organization.

The language in question said that under the policy change, "the school administrator shall involve the police department for any instance in which criminal activity is suspected."

"Our schools are supposed to be sanctuaries," said Leticia Alavez, a senior at Riverside University High School.

She said this proposed policy change would only create fear among her classmates.

"I have a lot of friends [that] are undocumented," she said. "They can be seen as suspicious just because of the way they look."

The district has to make changes to its discipline policy after a recent investigation by the U.S. Department of Education's Office for Civil Rights found that black students are suspended and expelled at much higher rates than white students.

The investigation identified multiple concerns including that in the 2013-2014 school year, black students made up 55 percent of the district's population, but about 80 percent of both expulsions and suspensions.

As a result of the investigation, MPS and the Department of Education reached an agreement to make a number of changes, including making sure discipline is applied to all students regardless of race. 

Those changes were brought to the school board Thursday. But Alavez and her organization, Leaders Igniting Transformation, brought the concern about the specific language involving the police to board members.

"We think it's an overreach that shouldn't happen," said Dakota Hall, executive director of Leaders Igniting Transformation. "And it puts many students in danger and puts them on the path of school to prison pipeline."

And the board listened to their concerns.

"This is a great example of democracy at work," said MPS Board Member Wendell Harris Sr. "This language is something we should of caught before it got to this point but it was community people who caught this and brought it to our attention."

MPS' new superintendent Keith Posley recommended striking out that one line and the board adopted the rest of the policy without it.

"I think it's a great first step," said Hall. "We think they have good intentions moving forward and we look forward to partnering with MPS to reform student discipline."

The Department of Education gave MPS a June 18 deadline to make changes to its discipline policy. The district plans to gather student input and revisit the language that drew concern.