Student group wants more done on MPS racial disparity issue

Posted at 10:14 PM, Mar 22, 2018
and last updated 2018-03-23 00:07:16-04

A group of current and former students at Milwaukee Public Schools attended Thursday night's school board meeting to bring attention to racial disparity issues in the district when it comes to discipline. 

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. 

A youth organization called Leaders Igniting Transformation gathered before the meeting to outline their suggestions for change, including removing police officers and metal detectors from schools and investing that money instead into social workers and guidance counselors. 

"The money that we're spending on policing schools isn't actually helping the issue, the issue still occurs," said Elisha Branch, a former student at Washington High School. 

Joya Headley is a junior at the Milwaukee School of Languages and says current discipline policies criminalize black students at MPS and create a hostile learning environment. 

"Makes us feel like are we here to learn or are we here to be policed?" she said. 

The Department of Education's 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 Educationreached an agreement to make a number of changes, including making sure discipline is applied to all students regardless of race. 

A spokesperson for the district sent the following statement:

"This is a long-term process and commitment and we are just at the beginning stages. We welcome the input and support of our students, community, and staff.

We’ve agreed to this resolution, which was approved by the Board at its December 2017 meeting, because we are committed to reducing the disciplinary disparity noted in the complaint. We want everyone’s input on what needs to change and their commitment to work with us to change it.

We are working with students at our high schools and middle schools right now to get their feedback on what needs to change and improve. School disciplinary teams now exist at each school to get feedback from staff and parents. 

We are announcing six April listening sessions for parental and community input."

This district is also setting up listening sessions for parents and the community to weigh in. Those are expected to take place in April.