MILWAUKEE — In a city notoriously ranked as worst for the well-being of African Americans, the Milwaukee Public School Board is considering changes to how suspensions and expulsions are handled.
A board meeting Thursday night is examining why African American students are suspended at a higher rate than others and potential options.
African American students make up a little more than half of the population at MPS, but the district's data shows last school year they made up 77 percent of expulsions. The year prior, that number was 82 percent.
"I have talked to others who have advised me in schools sometimes there are children that may misbehave because of societal conditions. They bring to school problems," said Tony Baez, an MPS School Board member and chair of the Student Achievement and School Innovation Committee.
"Psychologists testify to the fact that suspensions create an anxiety in children that has psychological consequences later in life," said Baez.
Baez proposes eliminating suspension for students in the 6th grade and lower and leaning more on intervention.
His resolution also suggests more training for staff, parents, and students on subjects like cultural awareness, conflict resolution, violence prevention, and restorative justice.
"I argue a part of the problem of suspensions can be traced back to the fact that school staff sometimes do not know how to handle. It doesn’t mean they’re bad people. It simply means they don’t know how to handle it," said Baez.
"I agree with the intent but again we need to move beyond putting band-aids on these gaping wounds," said Angela Harris, Chairwoman of the Black Educators Caucus.
Harris thinks there needs to be more focus on addressing why the disparities are there in the first place, which includes addressing implicit bias. She added any additional training should be mandatory.
"Punitive discipline as a punishment or behaviors. Restorative discipline is getting a child to understand the harm or the act that they did was inappropriate so that they won’t do it again," said Harris.
Harris urged that pushing kids out of the classroom for potentially days, weeks, or months is simply wrong.
"Think about the harm that causes between the student and the relationship with the school building and also the harm that it causes just in general for that student's academic progress," said Harris.
Considering MPS' virtual start to the school year and if Baez's proposal passes, he wants to take this upcoming semester to create alternatives to suspension and implement changes by January.