Friday, January 11, 2008

Unenviable Position

The other day I found myself in the unenviable position of participating in an expulsion hearing at my kids’ school. It’s a charter school and I’ve been on the school’s board for almost three years. The school’s policy allows only board members to implement expulsions. Fortunately, this is only the third proposed expulsion in the school’s 7-year history.

The school’s ethnically diverse, but its diversity is challenged if measured on a social-economic level, and so in many ways, it’s quite segregated. The school offers both a Spanish immersion program, and a general program where the students are given only an hour of Spanish instruction daily. A chasm has developed between the two programs. Both my kids are in the immersion program, but the majority of the Black families choose the general program and the immersion program is majority White.

The school’s faculty does have a few African American teachers, but the majority is White or natives of Spanish speaking countries, and other than the Dean of the Upper School, the administration is all White.

In the past, I’ve mediated parent/teacher conferences when asked by the school’s principal. It’s always been for issues involving African American families. I don’t have a background in mediation, but sometimes there’s such a cultural disconnect between the parties, that it seems to make a world of difference if at least one person who looks like them is also present in the room.

This expulsion hearing was painful. It involved a third grade African American male and the documentation provided detailed years of escalating problems and physical disruptions and the school has bent over backwards to assist this child and his family in finding his way. While reading the documentation, all I could think is--- Boy, I’m glad this kid isn’t in Olivia’s class.

The parents seemed responsive, but at their wits end. They’ve attended countless meetings, and the father’s even sat in the class on more than a dozen occasions, and since September alone, this child has been suspended 8 times. He uses foul language in the classroom and his classmates have expressed feeling unsafe in his presence.

Knowing all of this in no way alleviated my sadness as to what was happening to this kid and his family, but the bottom line is--- this current situation isn’t working and our school doesn’t offer to resources necessary help this boy, but if we’re going to put him out, we can at least help the family identify a more conducive situation.

At the hearing, the school’s only African American male administrator shared his experiences with the boy and he seemed to have positive and productive interactions. To me, it seems the boy is more responsive with adult Black males, because the boy also seemed to improve when his father was present in the class and for me, its woefully apparent the school’s current level of diversity isn’t expansiveness enough to meet the needs of the entire school community.

1 comment:

Mes Deux Cents said...

Mango Mama,

When I was in high school I had a very difficult time with my teachers. Throughout high school I only had one Black teacher and that caused me lots of problems.

What I found was, mostly in retrospect, was that the teachers biases played out in their interactions with me and other Black kids.

We expect teachers to be different than the general population but they aren't. They are subject to have the same prejudices as any other group.

It's very difficult to deal with the lack of expectations teachers have in you. Kids may not know how to express the hurt they feel about that and may act out.

I remember many teachers not expecting from me, a Black female, the same they expected from White kids. That directly affected my academic performance.

Thankfully I made it but a lot of Black kids did not.

That may be happening with this boy.

I feel for you in having to be apart of such a sad thing.

Hang in there.