VIRGINIA BEACH, Va. (WAVY) — A local advocate for students and their parents has organized a community forum to address the disparity between enrollment rates and suspension rates among certain groups, especially African American males.
“Dismantling the School to Prison Pipeline: Suspensions Don’t Work” will examine how school suspensions can begin a downward spiral from time out of school, to time behind bars.
Organizer Cheryl Poe says every school system in Hampton Roads has a disproportionately-high suspension rate for African American males, but the problem is worst in Virginia Beach.
The system has 23 percent African American student enrollment, but Poe says more than double that proportion of student suspensions.
“When you’re suspended for ten days or you’re expelled, you’re not learning anything,” Poe said.
She says that can create the school-to-prison pipeline: suspension, expulsion, trouble, jail.
Virginia Beach City Public Schools Chief Academic Officer Kipp Rogers, Ph.D., acknowledges the problem.
“As an African American educator, of course it’s troublesome. We absolutely strive to make sure that we’re doing things to decrease those gaps” Rogers said.
Training with senior staff — as recently as this week — emphasizes cultural understanding and empathy.
Poe opposes the effect of zero-tolerance policies and their effect on school suspensions, and even Rogers says zero-tolerance may not be the best mode of discipline.
“Where is the area in between where I have some flexibility as an adult working with that student to take that situation and individualize the situation?”
Rogers says it’s a conversation that must continue and that’s encouraging for Poe.
“This is the first time that I’ve ever heard of Virginia Beach really saying yeah, this is a huge issue,” she said.
The free community forum is scheduled for Saturday at 10 a.m. at 5602 Virginia Beach Blvd, Suite 101 B.
Also Saturday, the Virginia Beach school system is holding its 13th-annual African American Male Summit (AAMS) at Kempsville High School, 8 a.m. to 1 p.m., but registration is already closed after 600 students and 200 parents responded.