In a meeting with constituents and district staff yesterday, my District I trustee, Anna Eastman, admitted suspensions in Houston ISD were discriminatory.
During a review of tonight’s board meeting agenda and what her position on major votes would be, Ms. Eastman communicated her intention to support the new discipline policy as it was amended by Harvin Moore (without the suspension ban). You can read more about the original policy, why suspensions are negative regardless of discrimination, and the out of touch reversal that occurred during its first reading last month here.
In response, I asked Ms. Eastman two questions regarding her support, and I thought it would be important for those in the community that don’t have the opportunity to come to such meetings to be afforded her thoughts on the issue.
- Do you believe that principals will suspend children less based on this policy?
- What do you think about the disparity between the district’s racial composition and that of those being suspended (referencing the apparent discrimination happening when African Americans are 3x more likely to be suspended than their peers)?
Well, right off the bat Ms. Eastman replied, “It is discriminatory!”
She went on to state, “Having a policy that says we discourage suspensions but where it is still allowed, in and of itself, won’t change things.”
So I asked, why vote for it then?
Ms. Eastman answered, “Coming along with that is repurposing 2.5 million dollars of the budget to provide schools with resources they need around how to better manage in crisis and not use suspension as a reactionary tool and educate teachers and staff and repurpose our psychological services to be proactive rather than reactive.”
Continuing, she said, “Never is policy alone going to change behavior.”
I couldn’t believe what I had heard.
I couldn’t believe that my trustee, recognizing that a particular punishment in her district is used in a discriminatory manner, would let it continue even one day more. Is this the kind of system we want? A school system that tolerates racial discrimination because it doesn’t have anything better?
Or worse yet, my trustee believes that if she were to be a part of a board that passed a ban on a particular punishment, that it wouldn’t matter—that board policy is not enough to gain adoption by faculty and staff. What’s wrong with this picture? Does the board not have control of its superintendent or does the superintendent not have control of his principals? I think neither—I think its a convenient excuse for inaction. Effectively saying “It’s not me.”
Finally, Ms. Eastman’s only concrete reason for supporting the policy without the ban is that the policy changes come with a reallocation of dollars for needed services. To this I’d say two things:
- As Ms. Eastman knows and has stated, policy doesn’t create or manage funding. If the board thought the movement of that funding was important, they could do this at any time. This leads me to…
- Where was this funding during budget season? More over, where is the money coming from? We constantly hear how strapped the district is for resources, where did they find 2.5 million dollars all of a sudden? And, while we’re add it, what is her response to the professionals that have testified that said funding is not nearly enough to accomplish its goals of supporting these children and their teachers.
But, wait. They haven’t found the money. They’re actually just saying they will find it next year—while not having to actually pass it today.
I think that’s called passing the buck.
I’m so sad to be a constituent and a parent of a school district led by thinking and actions such as these. A bit mad. But mostly sad.