Board of Education focuses on zero-tolerance policies, alternative education in equity report


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TOPEKA — The State Board of Education is focusing on recommendations from a state commission report on racial equity issues, particularly ways to update or address zero-tolerance policies in Kansas schools.

The second annual report from the Kansas Commission on Racial Equity and Justice focused on the social determinants of health, which include access to quality education. In the final set of recommendations, the panel homed in on several aspects of educator and staff training, ways to leverage funding for students in need, and partnerships to curb the school-to-prison pipeline.

Among areas the commission felt schools could improve upon was the dynamic between law enforcement officers in schools and students, said Tiffany Anderson, co-chair of the commission and superintendent of Topeka Public Schools. The report details data showing more arrests of students for minor crimes in schools with school resource officers, especially among students of color.

“School districts really should seek to implement alternative complementary programs to address conflict and violence,” Anderson told the state board of education Tuesday. “So, evidence-based programs such as restorative justice practices should be used along with or instead of SROs when kids are experiencing conflict.”

Established in 2020 following the deaths of George Floyd, Breonna Taylor and others, the commission offered 124 recommendations to various levels of government and other stakeholders. While many of the suggestions need to be implemented at the local school board or legislative level, Anderson and board members discussed how they could influence or address some areas themselves.

Betty Arnold, a board member representing several districts in Sedgwick and Butler counties, was worried about the use of zero-tolerance policies in schools. For example, Arnold noted bringing a replica of a weapon, like a toy gun, is often enough to warrant expulsion for a full year under these policies, despite the fact some students would not think twice about a toy being such a significant problem.

She wondered how report recommendations could be used to address what she viewed as an overly harsh policy.

“When we have something in place, like a zero tolerance, I am concerned that most of those students that are expelled are the ones that really are lacking in behavioral or social areas,” Arnold said. “If they miss a year, and they’re not able to find a place to keep them on track, then the probability that they’re going to go back or that they’re going to graduate really becomes a big area of concern.”

Anderson noted that the 2020 commission report addressed zero-tolerance policies by creating alternative education opportunities. She said while a student may do an unsafe thing, all children deserve the opportunity to continue their education.

She said schools and local law enforcement should endeavor to create sustainable partnerships and come to a revised understanding of what justifies expulsion.

“The problem is the problem. The child is not the problem,” Anderson said. “When we act like the child is the problem and use that to be punitive toward the child, the child comes back often from suspension even worse than when they left.”

Ann Mah, a Topeka board member, urged a more initial efforts to ensure those who need to hear about the recommendations, such as superintendents and school counselors, are informed.

Jim Porter, chairman of the state board, suggested encouraging superintendents to employ commonsense approaches.

“There’s an obscure part of that law about a weapon that superintendents have some authority to make some decisions, and I know in my career I’ve done that twice,” Porter said. “With zero tolerance policies, you’re going to lose that child forever.”

Kansas Reflector is part of States Newsroom, a network of news bureaus supported by grants and a coalition of donors as a 501c(3) public charity. Kansas Reflector maintains editorial independence. Contact Editor Sherman Smith for questions: info@kansasreflector.com. Follow Kansas Reflector on Facebook and Twitter.

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Derek Nester
Derek Nesterhttps://sunflowerstateradio.com
Derek Nester was born and raised in Blue Rapids and graduated from Valley Heights High School in 2000. He attended Cowley College in Arkansas City and Johnson County Community College in Overland Park studying Journalism & Media Communications. In 2002 Derek joined Taylor Communications, Inc. in Salina, Kansas working in digital media for 550 AM KFRM and 100.9 FM KCLY. Following that stop, he joined Dierking Communications, Inc. stations KNDY AM & FM as a board operator and fill-in sports play-by-play announcer. Starting in 2005 Derek joined the Kansas City Chiefs Radio Network as a Studio Coordinator at 101 The Fox in Kansas City, a role he would serve for 15 years culminating in the Super Bowl LIV Championship game broadcast. In 2021 he moved to Audacy, formerly known as Entercom Communications, Inc. and 106.5 The Wolf and 610 Sports Radio, the new flagship stations of the Kansas City Chiefs Radio Network, the largest radio network in the NFL. Through all of this, Derek continues to serve as the Digital Media Director for Sunflower State Radio, the digital and social media operations of Dierking Communications, Inc. and the 6 radio stations it owns and operates across Kansas.

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