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During a powerful speech at the 25th anniversary summit for Teach for America, Nancy Hanks recently shared that as a principal of a Chicago school, she regretted following a discipline system that suspended or expelled students without trying to get to the root of their bad behavior.

According to the Department of Education, African American students only represent 16% of school demographics, however they account for nearly 42% of school suspensions leading to nearly 31% of school related arrests. Hanks shared these statistics while urging her colleagues to be cognizant of their contributions to the school-to-prison pipeline.

She told a compelling story of riding on an elevator with a student she had recommended for expulsion because he brought a BB gun to school. Hanks admitted that she made this decision in efforts to protect her professional reputation.

“…I had busted my behind for almost two years at that point to turn that school around, and establish community, and to repair the climate and to make kids feel safe. His bringing that BB gun wasn’t just a threat to safety but a threat to me and the reputation I was building for myself and for the school. And nobody was going to compromise that.”

Hanks added that she was relived to learn that the student didn’t fall through the cracks and succumb to a life of crime. Instead he was accepted into a military academy where he was getting good grades and he was preparing for the ACT with plans to attend college.

“I cried as soon as I got in the car and all the way to dinner. I prayed for forgiveness for that time and any other time I betrayed the privilege given to me to be a steward and protector over the children I serve. For anytime I never just let my students just be kids. Goofy, carefree kids that make mistakes — sometimes big and sometimes small. For holding kids to standards that I don’t even hold myself to, quite honestly.”

The chance encounter inspired Hanks who is now a top administrator for the school system in Madison, Wisconsin to revamp the district-wide discipline policies. She eliminated the option of suspensions for preschool through third grade students and she amended the list of suspendible and expellable offenses in grades four through twelve.

“In our first year of implementation we saw suspensions decrease by more than 40 percent across the district, which restored 1,900 days of what would have been lost instruction — 1,200 of which were for African American students” she said.

“When you know better, do better” she added.

SOURCE: Washington Post

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