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President: Discipline policies need to be consistent, color-blind
A discussion of possible institutional bias dominated April’s meeting of the McKeesport Area School Board.
The wide-ranging conversation was triggered by a social media post, and subsequent comments, that alleged an unidentified student received preferential treatment.
“Everyone needs to be consistent,” School Board President Latoya Wright said.
The district’s policy manual authorizes the board to establish “fair, reasonable and nondiscriminatory rules and regulations” regarding student conduct, and delegates the superintendent to ensure policies are followed. In the event of an infraction, students “shall have a right to notice,” and suspensions and expulsions shall be carried out according to board policy.
The board must collectively support “the administration's decisions with whatever recommendations may be when it comes to discipline here,” said Wright, who credited Superintendent Tia Wanzo with providing new leadership on the issue.
Previous actions haven’t necessarily aligned with best practices, Wright explained.
“A situation that took place that I was very uncomfortable with because one of our students knew someone and different things were happening,” she said. Some of the inconsistent practices have historically been along racial lines, Wright said, with Black students facing more severe punishment than white students.
A 2022 report by the American Civil Liberties Union concluded that Black students in Allegheny County were far more likely to face discipline — including having the police called — than white students.
“Please don’t take this the wrong way, but it's my Black and brown students,” Wright said. “My Black and brown students know no one and are not connected to anyone, so there (are) no favors done for them. Their families come in here, take their expulsion, and they go out the door. But (for) those who know someone, it’s a different game, different procedures happen.”
Rectifying these actions must begin at the school board level, Wright said: “If we are going to address this, we’re going to address this as a whole and we’re going to take accountability as a whole.”
Wanzo credited the board with broaching a difficult subject.
“These things are going to make us better as an administration and as a board,” she said.
Adam Reinherz is a freelance writer. He can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org.
Originally published May 01, 2023.