Tuesday, December 5, 2023

Annual equity report shows concerning issues with racial discipline gaps in WJCC

The Village Initiative released their second annual equity report for Williamsburg-James City County Public Schools and numbers show some growing concerns.

“I think it’s really easy to say that our WJCC schools are great and I think that’s true, but when you start to break down the data based on racial subgroups, that’s what shows there are significant problems that need to be addressed,” said Amy Quark, a member of the Village Initiative. “The report can help guide decision making where we want to put our resources.”

The Village Initiative is a local nonprofit that promotes unity and inclusion in WJCC schools.

Last year, Quark said the idea for starting the annual report came after the organization realized it had been bringing the issues forward but they weren’t drawing enough attention. The report was created to help provide a document that people could turn to that summarizes the data.

RELATED STORY: WJCC Schools staff is mostly white – with an all-white school board. Here’s how that’s impacting students

Information on the report is compiled from the Virginia Department of Education’s School Quality Profiles, which analyzes various aspects of school performance throughout the state. 

During the Nov. 19 WJCC School Board meeting, members of The Village presented highlights from the report.

“The report this year does show some troubling trends,” said Jennifer Bickham-Mendez, a member of The Village, during the meeting. “[There is] the continuation of consistent over-representation in short and long-term suspension and troubling racial discipline gaps.”

Data in the report showed students identifying as black, Hispanic or two or more races accounted for 67 percent of short term suspensions and 86 percent of long-term suspensions even though these students only makeup 39 percent of the district’s student population.

“Studies show achievement gaps and racial discipline gaps track together, so when you address one, you’re addressing both,” Bickham-Mendez said.

While that trend is apparent across the district, it is most persistent at Laurel Lane Elementary School where black students only make up 15 percent of the student population but account for 75 percent of short term suspensions. 

That’s also an issue at Lafayette High School, where black students only make up 21 percent and yet account for 60 percent of short-term suspensions and 67 percent of long-term suspensions.

“The most troubling finding is the racial discipline gap,” Quark said. “People focus on achievement gap, but in many ways we want to consider the root of the problem to be the disproportionate discipline rates.”

Quark said newer research is showing students of color are more likely to be stereotyped as discipline problems. Some of this discipline means they’ll be taken away from their learning environment, which could impact their overall academic success.

“I think all of us are fully aware of the achievement gap,” School Board Chairwoman Lisa Ownby said during the meeting. “And we’ve been fully transparent with that and the division is aware that we need to make strides”

To address that issue, members of The Village suggested more training that would engage educators more deeply in understanding implicit bias. 

“If we start to think carefully about the ways in which our implicit biases might be leading to stereotyping in discipline, then we will probably see a reduction in discipline gap and the achievement gap will improve as well,” Quark said. 

RELATED STORY: This local organization is collecting the stories of WJCC integration

Quark said she didn’t expect a response from board members during the meeting, but rather members of The Village will be paying close attention as the coming year’s budget cycle begins.  

“The budget is where we are really looking to see a response when making tough choices about resources,” Quark said. “Looking at if they’re prioritizing equity in the budget.”

Alexa Doiron
Alexa Doironhttp://wydaily.com
Alexa Doiron is a multimedia reporter for WYDaily. She graduated from Roanoke College and is currently working on a master’s degree in English at Virginia Commonwealth University. Alexa was born and raised in Williamsburg and enjoys writing stories about local flair. She began her career in journalism at the Warhill High School newspaper and, eight years later, still loves it. After working as a news editor in Blacksburg, Va., Alexa missed Williamsburg and decided to come back home. In her free time, she enjoys reading Jane Austen and playing with her puppy, Poe. Alexa can be reached at alexa@localvoicemedia.com.

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