Dear School Committee Members,

We wanted to share a more detailed version of REAL’s statement from tonight’s public comment period, which contains additional information, including more data.

Tonight’s statement was written collectively by members of REAL (Racial Equity and Learning), a group of NPS caregivers, students, teachers, and staff. We have been working together for the past few years to deepen our understanding of how race and racism operate in Northampton public schools so that we can challenge the centering of white experiences and practices, and promote ways of thinking, doing, and being that move us toward becoming an anti-racist district.

First, we would like to acknowledge that the challenges of reopening are at the forefront of everyone’s mind tonight. However, because school discipline is on the agenda AND because of the current and rightful local and national outrage/momentum about the need for racial justice, we feel compelled to speak on the issues of police presence and alternative forms of discipline in the Northampton schools.

We were pleased to hear that as part of the budget cuts, the NPD eliminated the district’s SRO position, as we know that there are more effective and less harmful ways to deal with conflict in schools. It is also important to acknowledge that this is not about one individual, but about what the data tells us about police in schools. 

Research across the country on the impact of SROs reveal shocking data, including these examples: 

  • Denver, Colorado experienced a 71% increase in school referrals to law enforcement between 2000 and 2004.
  • Georgia schools went from approximately 89 referrals per year in the 1990s to 1,400 per year in 2004.
  • A three-year study of 13 schools in a Southeastern school district with both urban and suburban characteristics showed schools with SROs had nearly five times the number of arrests for disorderly conduct as schools without an SRO, even when controlling for the level of economic disadvantage of the school.

And not surprisingly, the presence of SROs–along with other traditional forms of school discipline–disproportionately harms targeted populations, namely students of color and students with disabilities. For example:

  • A 2016 Education Department report on national school data reported that Black students are more than twice as likely to be referred to law enforcement or arrested at school than their white peers.
  • 70% of students involved in in-school arrests are Black or Latinx.

It is critical to note that data also shows that schools are NO SAFER today than they were before the implementation of SRO programs.

We know that Northampton is not exempt from these statistics, no matter the rhetoric about our so-called “progressive” town. To illustrate, data from the Northampton Public Schools shows that students of color account for 30.7% (835/2270) of the total student population, and 50% of the students disciplined.

According to the most recent data, at the high school, African Americans are 2.87% of the population and account for 5.83% of disciplinary actions; Latinx students are 17.17% of the population and account for 30.83% of disciplinary actions; and remaining students of the global majority constitute 6.51% of the population and account for 8.33% of disciplinary actions. White students at the high school are the only racial group whose percentage of disciplinary action–50%–is lower than their percentage of the population–69.3%.

There are better ways to deal with conflict in schools–ways that, among other positive results, do not disproportionately harm students of color. The termination of the SRO position provides an opening for us to seek new possibilities. If this district is truly committed to becoming anti-racist as committee member Laura Fallon is proposing tonight, these possibilities should be thoughtfully explored and implemented. 

There are two related projects that REAL will be working on, in coordination with other local groups and community members:

  1. A commitment to sever ALL relationships between NPS and the NPD from here on out in the form of a School Committee resolution. 
  2. A push for a truly authentic restorative justice approach in our schools. Here we would like to note that the newly revised Code of Conduct claims that this is something the district is committed to.

As background, restorative justice offers non-punitive, relationship-centered processes for avoiding and addressing harm and collaboratively solving problems. Studies show that restorative justice improves school climate, reduces suspension rates, increases graduation rates, enhances teacher and student satisfaction, and reduces racial disparities in discipline. A few years after adopting restorative justice as its official policy, and committing staff and funding to the effort, Oakland Public Schools still report some racial disparities in discipline–but the black/white discipline gap narrowed from 12.1% to 6.4%–a 47% decrease. And the Latinx gap narrowed from 3.4% to 1.4%–a 59% decrease.

Northampton’s recent DESE investigative report states that “the systems for clear, schoolwide positive behavioral systems and expectations are not sufficiently robust or comprehensively articulated for K–12… The high school does not have a positive behavioral program… Without a coherent, robust, and comprehensive system of supports, the district cannot ensure that it is equitably challenging and supporting all students to develop social-emotional and academic knowledge, skills, and competencies to prepare for college, careers, transitional pathways, and life.”

We believe that implementing restorative justice practices, paired with effective training and support, can help address the current shortcomings in our district that harm all students, but  disproportionately students of color and students with disabilities.

We hope that going forward the district goes beyond making claims about anti-racist intent–to actually following up with anti-racist actions and practices that, though they will require time and effort and a willingness to make mistakes and learn from those mistakes, will ensure our schools are healthier places for all students. 

Thank you,

REAL

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