After attending three different school districts while growing up in the Kansas City area and later teaching at KC Public Schools for two years, Lauren Anderson saw inequities in the education system first hand. She saw how Black and Brown students like herself were disciplined much harsher and received more suspensions than White students.
“Children sometimes act out, but for some teachers, there’s this act of wanting to police,” Anderson said. “Teachers and administrators need to see (Black students) as human and sometimes Black and Brown kids and students that come from immigrant families, are not seen as human. They’re very much dehumanized at school.”
In a report by ProPublica from 2018, Black students in Missouri are 4.4 times more likely to be suspended as White students, and Black students make up 44% of out of school suspensions while they only make up 16% of the school population.
In the same report, while Black students make up 57% of the students at KCPS, they account for 77% of suspensions. White students make up 9% of students in KCPS and account for 9% of suspensions.
Additionally, studies show that students who are suspended or come into contact with law enforcement because of their school behaviors and who don’t have access to counseling services, are more likely to drop out of school and enter the juvenile and criminal justice system. It’s part of a larger trend: the school-to-prison pipeline.
Anderson and a group of other Kansas City-area educators, parents and leaders at moRe2, a faith-based membership organization in Kansas City focused on racial equity, are working to dismantle the school-to-prison pipeline statewide. They’re starting with a push to ban suspensions for pre-K-through-third-grade students, one school district at a time.
“The [focus on] pre-K through third grade is really critical because if a child is not reading and understanding at third-grade level by third grade, they will spend time in prison,” said Ron Carter, referring to well supported data. “We’ve got to keep these kids engaged through the third grade and set that foundation so that they go on to be successful.”
Carter, a parent and leader on the MORE2 education task force, says the group is gathering a great deal of their strategy from parents in St. Louis who mobilized with metropolitan Congregations united, a faith-based organization similar to MORE2 that organizes congregations, organizations and communities to change public policy for the common good. The group held marches and demanded a stop to suspensions, and in 2016, they were able to get a ban on suspensions in St. Louis Public Schools for pre-K-through-second grade students.
“We want to build the same power that they built in St. Louis,” said Gary Enrique Bradley Lopez, MORE2 community organizer who has helped mobilize concerned Kansas City parents and educators. “My hope is that we can reach that power just like in St. Louis and we can work together to build power.”
The MORE2 education task force, in conjunction with the American Civil Liberties Union, have been working on this issue for the past two years. Kansas City Public Schools’ student support executive is recommending banning suspensions for students from kindergarten through the fifth grade except in cases where the student is harming themselves or others. The school board will take up the policy change at a meeting in May.
If passed, the policy would require each elementary school in the district to have a full-time trauma counselor, provide cultural bias and de-escalation training for all student resource officers, and implement restorative discipline training for all teachers and school administrators.
If passed, the policy would become effective during the 2022-23 school year. Funding for the supporting improvements is being considered during an April budget meeting.
“It’s our job today and tomorrow to continuously reimagine what education looks like and what equity looks like, not only in education, but also in general society,” Anderson said.
If you support ending suspensions of students in kindergarten through third grade in all Kansas City Public School Systems, consider signing the petition. You can find it here – https://bit.ly/3f2XKq7
The next meeting of the MORE2 Breaking the Pipeline meeting is April 8, 6 p.m. to 7:30 p.m. For more information contact Gary Enrique Bradley-Lopez at (913) 250-7330.