African-American students in Bryan, Texas, are four times more likely to be suspended than white students. Even black preschool students are more than three times as likely as their white peers to be suspended from school. Why? Well, the Department of Education was investigating to try to find the answer to that question. Was. And then along came Secretary of Education Betsy DeVos.
With more than 1,500 complaints of racial discrimination in schools across the nation between 2011-2017, the Department of Education under President Obama launched investigations nationwide, from Minneapolis, Minnesota to Oakland, California. And yes, even Bryan, Texas. It is nothing short of systemic racism. DeVos, however, ordered at least 65 such investigations halted, and ordered investigators to limit proactive civil rights probes rather than expanding them.
Bryan, Texas, has a history of discrimination. When the Supreme Court ordered school de-segregation in 1954 as a result of Brown v Board of Education of Topeka, the town of Bryan thought the law excluded them, and refused to comply. Only when one parent filed and won a federal lawsuit in 1963, nearly a decade after the Brown decision, did the courts order Bryan to de-segregate … one grade per year. Progress comes slow, especially to small, southern towns.Which brings us to today, where black students in Bryan are four times as likely to be ticketed, arrested, suspended or expelled as their classmates with lighter skin. Black students are also less likely to be selected for honours classes or given awards.
When DeVos was asked during her disastrous interview for 60 Minutes about institutional racism in the schools, she replied, “We’re studying it carefully. And are committed to making sure students have opportunity to learn in safe and nurturing environments.” Would this ‘studying it carefully’ be the same studies that she has ordered to be halted, such as the one in Bryan?
And now, let me tell you what happened to 13-year-old Trah’Vaeziah in Bryan last October.
Trah’Vaeziah Jackson, a student at Arthur L. Davila Middle School in Bryan, was frequently a victim of bullying – so much so that her mother, Yvola Polk, made frequent trips to the school to protest that the school was doing nothing to keep her daughter, and others like her (black) safe. The school eventually sent a police officer to Ms. Polk’s home where he issued her a warning citation for trespassing. But back to Trah’Vaeziah and her ordeal on a Friday afternoon last October. The class was doing some sort of craft project involving hot glue guns and popsicle sticks in the hallway outside their classroom. The teacher was inside the classroom and could not see the children. As will happen when children are left unsupervised, a bit of horse play, some joking around started. Long story short, Trah’Vaeziah accidentally burned another child’s arm with a popsicle stick that had hot glue on it. The burn was not serious, the other child stated that they were just playing and teasing, but guess where Trah’Vaeziah was sent. Yes, to the principal’s office, but only long enough to wait for the school police officer to come and escort Trah’Vaeziah to the Brazos County Juvenile Justice Center.
Once there, she cried as employees patted her down, cut off her hair extensions, and took her photo and fingerprints. She was served dinner — chicken nuggets, mashed potatoes and an apple in a plastic container with a carton of milk — but had no appetite. Trah’Vaeziah had not yet been allowed to contact her mother – remember that this is a child of 13 years! In the shower room, guards applied thick anti-lice shampoo to Trah’Vaeziah’s hair. As she washed and combed it, clumps fell out. Afterwards, she reluctantly changed from her school clothes, a T-shirt and jeans, into the detention uniform, an orange shirt with matching shorts. Then she was locked in her cell, which contained a sink, a toilet, and, instead of a bed, a stuffed blue mat atop a brick base. High on the wall was a sliver of a window, but she wasn’t tall enough to see outside.
It was after 8:00 p.m. when she was finally allowed to call her mother. She was held in the juvenile facility for three days until a judge finally released her on condition that she do 20 hours of community service and write an apology letter. She also stipulated that Trah’Vaeziah would have to keep a clean record until the next court date and couldn’t access social media, cellphones or cash. Any violation of the agreement would result in further detention. All this for an accident that could have been avoided had the teacher been doing her job. But wait … there’s more.
The following week, the school held a hearing on the incident, where Trah’Vaeziah was sentenced to five weeks in the district’s disciplinary alternative school. Her mother argued and was able to get her sentence reduced, but I ask you … if that had been a white girl, would the consequences for an accident have been this severe? I think not.
Before the investigation was halted, no less than 10 incidents where black students received harsher punishment than their white peers were discovered. The importance of bringing a stop to institutional, or sanctioned racism in the schools cannot be stressed enough. When our African-American students are bullied, are treated less fairly than their white counterparts, they feel that they do not belong here. The dropout rate rises among those students, and when jail or juvenile detention is a part of their ‘punishment’, it is a mark already on their record. They tend to give up at an early age. It is what sociologists call the school-to-prison pipeline, a process of criminalizing youth that is carried out by disciplinary policies and practices within schools that put students into contact with law enforcement.
It should come as no surprise that Betsy DeVos is not only oblivious to the situation, but also unconcerned and uncaring. Ms. DeVos, born with a silver spoon in her mouth, does not, even by her own admission, visit any of the troubled schools for which she is responsible. She was, after all, the one who referred to historically black colleges as “pioneers of school choice”! She has no teaching or public school experience and does not even support the idea of public schools, but has expressed her strong preference for charter schools that serve only a few, while draining money from the public school system that serves the majority. She has called for massive budget cuts to the Department of Education at a time when schools are in desperate need of repairs, new textbooks, and teachers are supplying many of their students’ needs out of their own meager pay.Below is a sample of one page from the investigative report as it stood at the time it was shuttered. It is plain to see that there is definite evidence of racial disparity, despite what DeVos and her underlings claim. And, as we all know, it is not just in Bryan, Texas, but all across the nation. Now the question is: what do we do about it?