Stop Suspending Marginalized Students!

By Mary Lister

On February 23rd, the Binghamton School Board Meeting erupted in community frustration and legitimate concern. For several hours, students, teachers, and community members lined up to praise or condemn new programs being implemented by Superintendent Martinez. These programs, including the Restorative Justice program in a middle school class in East and the Parent Mentorship Program in East and in the HS, have been proven to eliminate some of the very problems that Binghamton Schools have been cited for since 2003.

For 13 years Binghamton schools have been classified as failing on several accounts. One of the most pressing problems is the disproportionate rate of suspension for African American and Latino students, especially boys with disabilities: currently, four out of every five students suspended are African American and/or have disabilities. Both East Middle School and West Middle School have been listed as needing reformatory measures since 2003, and in 2008 the entire district was put on the list for not fixing the original problems. Under the old superintendent and school board, not even one program was initiated to combat these issues.

Fortunately, the newly-elected Superintendent Martinez and some of the current members of the Binghamton Board of Education have stepped up to finally begin addressing these problems. After talking with countless parents, community members, and students, Dr. Martinez started to implement the Parent Mentorship program and the Restorative Justice program, both of which are tried-and-true ways to keep minority students in class and out of penal institutions. At the school board meeting, dozens of community members, students, and their parents (mostly people of color) spoke in favor of these programs and the positive impact that they are already having, helping build up disadvantaged parents as leaders in the school system and creating a more just disciplinary system.

In contrast, many of the teachers who came to speak at the meeting are actively trying to do away with these initiatives. While the comments from some white teachers and parents boiled down to barely-concealed racism, other concerns were more legitimate, albeit misdirected. For example, some spoke about not having the proper resources or time to fully get behind these programs. While demanding more planning time and resources is reasonable, cutting these programs isn’t the solution. Instead, we should work to redirect some of the $5.4 billion surplus in the state budget to struggling school districts such as our own.

As the dust settles from the heated arguments of the meeting, one thing should remain clear: students of color and students with disabilities have a right to education, and teachers have a responsibility to provide it. Any attempt by teachers to evade that responsibility will, and should, face resistance.

 

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