By NICK GRABBE
Wednesday, November 18, 2009
AMHERST - Students from African-American and Latino backgrounds have been suspended at higher percentages at Amherst Regional High School than their percentages in the school population, Principal Mark Jackson announced Tuesday.
From August 2008 through June 2009, African-American students accounted for 18 percent of the external suspensions and 14 percent of the internal suspensions, while they comprise 8.75 percent of the school population, according to the figures Jackson presented.
Latino students, who comprise 10 percent of the population, accounted for 23 percent of the external and 22 percent of the internal suspensions, according to the figures.
"This is a white, middle-class environment that is fairly easily alienating for kids of color," Jackson told the Regional School Committee Tuesday.
But he also said, "This is a very safe and orderly place and the level of compliance with rules is very high."
White students, who comprise 68 percent of the school population, accounted for 52 percent of the external and 55 percent of the internal suspensions, according to the figures.
School Committee member Steve Rivkin asked how many students who were suspended were new arrivals, and perhaps find a new environment alienating. He asked what the ultimate consequence of suspensions is, such as how many drop out.
"White people aren't intentionally being hostile; they don't know any better," said School Committee member Kathleen Anderson. She asked Jackson how the culture of the high school can be transformed to increase awareness.
Jackson said he's found it difficult to engage in the topic of race, but agreed that some students of color can find the high school "inhospitable."
Superintendent Alberto Rodriguez said the school needs to create a climate where "all students feel welcomed and this is part of their home. This is nobody's fault and it's all of our fault."
He said that children often lash out with violence or other unacceptable behavior because their learning environment is deficient.
During the debate over elementary redistricting, Rodriguez said he saw a lot of anxiety among parents and advocates of students of color who felt that keeping ethnic clusters together would make them feel more comfortable.
"We need to look at structural inequities that lead a certain child one way and another child another way," he said.
Nick Grabbe can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org.
My Goal in Blogging
I started this blog in May of 2008, shortly after my election to the School Committee, because I believed it was very important to both provide the community with an opportunity to share their thoughts with me about our schools and to provide me with an opportunity for me to ask questions and share my thoughts and reasoning. I have found the conversation generated on my blog to be extremely helpful to me in learning community views on many issues. I appreciate the many people who have taken the time to share their views. I believe it is critical to the quality of our public schools to have a public discussion of our community priorities, concerns and aspirations.