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Published: Tuesday, 5/1/2012 - Updated: 2 years ago

New methods sought for student discipline

Arrests decreid by social action group

BY JULIE M. McKINNON AND NOLAN ROSENKRANS
BLADE STAFF WRITERS
Pat Urbaniak of Holland, left, and Patricia Randolph of Toledo sign a letter to the Toledo Public Schools superintendent, Jerome Pecko, advocating use of a new program to handle student discipline. Pat Urbaniak of Holland, left, and Patricia Randolph of Toledo sign a letter to the Toledo Public Schools superintendent, Jerome Pecko, advocating use of a new program to handle student discipline.
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Fighting, turning over desks, and otherwise disrupting classes at Toledo Public Schools are not acceptable to Toledoans United for Social Action.

But neither is arresting students for such behavior instead of finding ways to address discipline problems and motivate them in classrooms, Robert Birt, minister of Glass City Church of Christ, said during the group's annual meeting Monday.

"Arresting them is an overreaction that often makes the situation worse," Mr. Birt told more than 400 people gathered at Friendship Baptist Church, one of 24 congregations in the group.

He added: "If you take a wannabe gang member … and place them in a cell with a real gang member, what do you think is going to happen?"

During the 2012 Nehemiah Action meeting, named for a biblical prophet who led the Israelites to rebuild Jerusalem, Morris Jenkins, a University of Toledo professor, pledged to train TPS administrators and teachers in restorative justice techniques so students remain in school.

Mr. Jenkins, chairman of UT's Department of Criminal Justice, likened restorative justice to the concept of "it takes a village to raise a child." Community members, he said, need to seize power from authorities to help students.

Restorative justice is one program advocated by Toledoans United for Social Action, Mr. Birt said.

The Rev. Otis Gordon of Toledoans United for Social Action, right, thanks Morris Jenkins, a UT professor who said he'd train TPS administrators and teachers in restorative justice so students stay in school. The Rev. Otis Gordon of Toledoans United for Social Action, right, thanks Morris Jenkins, a UT professor who said he'd train TPS administrators and teachers in restorative justice so students stay in school.
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Jerome Pecko, the TPS superintendent, did not attend the Monday evening meeting. But a statement to Toledoans United for Social Action read during the meeting pledged the district's support in continuing to work with the organization and other groups that have questioned discipline practices.

The U.S. Department of Justice Civil Rights Division and the U.S. Attorney's Office for the Northern District of Ohio launched an inquiry last year into allegations of "significant racial disparities" in student discipline at TPS.

Justice Department spokesman Mike Tobin said Monday the investigation is ongoing, and there is no timeline for completion.

TPS officials earlier Monday noted that total days lost to discipline this school year is down steeply from last school year.

Total days lost during this school year's first semester were 20,259, down 8,612 from last year's 28,871, a 30 percent reduction in days lost. Most of that decline is from the almost total elimination at the K-8 level of the behavior intervention centers, where students served suspensions in school as a step before out-of-school suspensions or expulsions, according to statistics supplied by TPS.

Still, despite the reduction in total discipline, significant disparities remain in who gets the punishment, according to the statistics.

About 43 percent of the district's student population is black, but more than 70 percent of the days lost to discipline were from black students, statistics show. High discipline rates remain concentrated in the Woodward and Scott learning communities.

That kind of disproportionate discipline has long been decried by the Toledoans United for Social Action and other groups. A committee started in 2008 by board of education member Jack Ford, a former mayor, investigated the high number of students out of school for discipline problems and made several recommendations for policy changes in the district.

The disparity is not unique to Toledo. According to a March report released by the U.S. Department of Education's Office for Civil Rights, black students made up 18 percent of the student population of 72,000 schools surveyed in the 2009-10 year, but 35 percent of students suspended and 39 percent of those expelled were black.

Organized in 1992, Toledoans United for Social Action has grown to a group of two dozen church congregations of diverse socioeconomic, racial, denominational and geographic backgrounds representing more than 19,000 Lucas County residents.

The organization has worked to address injustices in four areas: jobs, safety, youth, and education.

Contact Julie M. McKinnon at: jmckinnon@theblade.com or 419-724-6087.



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