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Posts Tagged ‘ACLU’

They’re Talking about the ACLU Report in New York and Chicago …

Posted by whforums on January 9, 2009

As you probably know, a few weeks ago (way back in 2008 ) the ACLU released a report that cited alarming arrest rates in West Hartford, Hartford and East Hartford schools. The ACLU’s essential concern was that, in our schools, “the trend is toward criminalizing students, not educating them.” The “them” in that sentence, however, is the real problem — the ACLU found that there are significant racial and ethnic disparities in school-based arrests. You can read my “close-reading” of the ACLU report as it relates to West Hartford directly in the post West Hartford and the ACLU’s “Hard Lessons” Report. The report is linked for download in that post as well.

What’s surprised me, in a period that’s been fairly lively for this blog, has been the lack of local conversation about the ACLU report. I mean, maybe there’s nothing to say — maybe we implicitly (or explicitly) accept discrimination and this report fails to elicit dialog because it confirms an implicit belief. Yet when it comes to protecting and developing an equal quality of life (and, more basically, equal treatment for all people), there’s little more poisonous than complacency.

With out without us, the web is becoming less and less complacent about the report. Around the web …:

➫ Shortly after the release of the report, “a public defender” (a Connecitcut legal blog) wrote a post that echoed the ACLU’s sentiment about the “school to prison pipeline” and, in the comments section, connected the finding to the racial and ethnic disparity in the American prison population.

➫ On January 4th, the New York Times wrote an editorial citing the report, arguing that “Connecticut and other states also need to issue public reports of school-based arrests and take steps to ensure that they are not racially motivated.” While the NYT recognizes that the problems cited in West Hartford, East Hartford and Hartford are not just local problems, we can’t ignore that the word “Connecticut” at the start of that sentence is at least in part a pronoun for “West Hartford, East Hartford and Hartford.”

➫ On Monday, Small Talk, an education blog in Chicago, picked up the story, using the report (and the arrest disparities in West Hartford/East Hartford specifically) as a way to argue against what it perceives to be “barbaric school district policies.”

The short of it? Conversation about the report is happening, and Greater Hartford is the proxy (or worse, the example) for that conversation. While West Hartford, East Hartford and Hartford may only be ways for many communities to beging to talk about a larger, national problem, that does nothing to change the fact that the report is screaming at our communities “the problem may be ours, but we can prove it’s yours.” Which leaves me with the question I started with one month ago — what steps do we take, both big and small, in light of the ACLU’s report?

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Posted in Hartford, Institutionalized Discrimination, Local Democracy, Media, National News, West Hartford, WHPS | Tagged: , , , | 7 Comments »

West Hartford and the ACLU’s “Hard Lessons” Report

Posted by whforums on December 12, 2008

So, just as forewarning, this is going to be a long post. I fear, not having written it yet, that it’s likely you’re going to have to scroll while reading it.

After reading the ACLU report “Hard Lessons,” I went through and grabbed all the narrative and statistical claims the report made about West Hartford. The real goal of this post is to give those claims a common space (separate from the claims about Hartford and East Hartford) so that we can discuss what the report has to say about our own bubble. The data is both telling and almost surreal in turn, and I have to admit that a secondary reason for separating/compiling this data is to further one of the goals of the ACLU as stated in the report: “this aims … to be the start of a conversation.”

I’ve broken down the information I’ve gleaned from the report into three parts: General Information (including the ACLU’s conclusions and suggestions), Narrative Claims about West Hartford, and Statistical Claims about West Hartford. I’ve numbered each item to facilitate conversation, and I’ve added my own commentary in italics (only where I had something to say).
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General Information

1. The ACLU’s reason for filing this report is that “the trend is toward criminalizing students, not educating them.” The ACLU grants that the racial and ethnic disparities they found in greater Hartford are not localized to greater Hartford, but are real, national problems. It’s unclear to me why our area was chosen for this report.

2. The ACLU is not entirely convinced they have received accurate data from the State Department of Education. If anything, they believe the SDE may be (unintentionally) understating the number of arrests.

3. To solve the problem of school based arrest, the ACLU believes schools and SROs should engage in more ticketing, more preventative work, and should more often attack root causes of problems (issues with mental health, substance abuse, interpersonal issues needing mediation, etc.). Arrest should only occur as an absolute last resort, when school safety is genuinely threatened.

  • It seems to me that West Hartford already does a good deal of preventative work, and yet our arrest rates remain the highest among the three towns studied. Are we too quick to arrest, or do we have greater in-school problems than other districts?

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Narrative Claims about West Hartford

4. SROs in West Hartford, from 2005-2007, were not subject to written policies that describe their duties.

  • This is ridiculous, almost to the point of not seeming believable. I mean, shouldn’t everyone we hire be hired on a contract that specifically outlines their duties, even if there’s the “Other duties as assigned” line tacked onto the end? Without duties, how do we assess outcomes?

5. SROs in West Hartford do not receive mandatory training as SROs, though some do pursue or receive training. One West Hartford SRO reported receiving more than 100 hours of relevant training.

  • Given the time and money spent on professional development in WHPS, I’m pretty sure our SROs are well trained.

6. Neither WHPS nor the WHPD maintains school based arrest data in an accessible form. When the ACLU asked the WHPD for this data, they responded that the request did not “coincide with the categories in which we store the information”. The WHPD had staffers seek and gather the data from their records for the ACLU report. Schools shred all arrest reports at the end of the year.

  • I get the privacy concerns here, and I understand the desire to shred this data. But shouldn’t WHPS be maintaining some sort of generic, anonymous data of the arrests that occur within its purview? How do we measure this important outcome (even if it’s an outcome we don’t desire) if we shred the outcome? It’s as though there’s a will to forget where we’ve failed (to burn the archive, yes?), rather than to study that very thing.

7. From 2005-2007, West Hartford arrested a little more than 30 students between the grades of K-8. This includes the arrest of two Hispanic fourth graders for “insubordination.” Actual percentages are unclear, but the ACLU says African-Americans and Hispanics in grades K-8 were arrested “more” than Whites.

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Statistical Claims about West Hartford

8. In 06-07, there were 5 arrests per 1000 students. 5% of all incidents resulted in arrest (compared to 3 in East Hartford and .5 percent in Hartford).

  • It’s important to note that that number of arrests was much higher in West Hartford in 05-06, suggesting improvement, aberration, or something generally funky in the 06-07 numbers.

9. In 06-07, African American and Hispanic students constituted 24% of the WHPS population but experienced 63% of the arrests.

  • This is unreal to me, and it’s one of the numbers that got a lot of press because it’s so outrageous. Sample sizes are of course small, but show consistency across the two years of the study. If I may adapt the lingo of this, our Internet … W.T.F.?

10. In 05-07, African American students were twice as likely to be arrested as white students for committing the same infraction (“physical altercations”). From 2005-2007, physical altercations in West Hartford were likely to lead to arrests rates of 23% for African Americans, but only 11% for Whites.

  • Chief Strillaci responded directly to this information the day the report was released, arguing that all fights are not made equal. And that, undoubtedly, is true. But this disparity suggests, at best, an unconscious social prejudice that happens to emerge in the place someone went looking for it — the schools.

11. From 05-06 to 06-07, arrests in West Hartford fell sharply, from 121-52. However, the ratio of incident reports to arrests in WH remained higher than in the other districts. West Hartford’s suspension rate was much lower than the other two districts.

  • This I don’t entirely get — if we arrest a student, wouldn’t the school issue its own punishment — a suspension, on top of that arrest? Are we quick to arrest, but slow to suspend? Is suspension considered as much of a last resort as arrest? That seems unlikely, and leaves me confused about the meaning of this number.

12. In 05-06 and 06-07, African-Americans, Hispanics and Whites were arrested in approximately equal numbers in West Hartford, despite the fact that there were far more Whites in the school system. In 05-06 in West Hartford, there were 30 arrests per 1000 Hispanic students, 43 arrests per 1000 African American students, and 5 arrests per 1000 White students. Similar disparities prevailed in 06-07, despite the lower arrest rate as a whole.

13. For drug/alcohol/tobacco incidents in West Hartford, African Americans were likely to be arrested 27% of the time, Hispanic students were likely to be arrested 31% of the time, and Whites were arrested 10% of the time. The ACLU grants that these numbers may be impacted by small sample size.

  • This category seems very broad, and the numbers may also be impacted by the types of offense. It’s one thing for a 16 year old to have a pack of cigarettes on them — and another to have a baggie. The ACLU admits as much in the report.

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So, Why the Disparities?

14. If school based arrests are occurring in numbers that are out of whack, the ACLU asks the following practical question: “What concrete steps can we (that we is “West Hartford” in this case) take to determine the cause and to reduce those disparities?”

15. The report provides one potential reason for the disparities, arguing they are likely the cause of “conscious and unconscious decision making.” They further state that perception of an in-school transgression is largely subjective, claiming that “…research suggests that educators view certain behaviors more harshly when observed in students of color than when observed in white students (e.g., a white student who talks back may be cited for ‘insubordination,’ while an African American student engaging in the same conduct is found to have engaged in ‘threatening.’)”

So, I turn the ACLU’s question over to you. Based on the ACLU’s argument that not all students in West Hartford are being treated the same way (or perhaps you reject the argument or a component of it?):

“What concrete steps can we take to determine the cause and to reduce those disparities?”

Posted in Institutionalized Discrimination, West Hartford, WHPD, WHPS | Tagged: , , , | 2 Comments »

BOE Reaction to ACLU Report

Posted by whforums on December 1, 2008

I posted last week about an ACLU report that showed that “minority” students were significantly more likely to be arrested in West Hartford schools than white students.  Real Hartford also has a great post on the topic here. While this story has certainly been a mainstream story (in the Courant, on the TV news, even in the West Hartford News), I’ve been surprised at how little reaction there’s been within the blogosphere (not just in comments, but in general traffic/interest), maybe because, to me, it seems like a pretty significant story.

In any case, the West Hartford News has an interesting piece about the BOE reaction to the report, which can best be described as politic.  The BOE essentially said the following — we take it seriously, if there’s a problem, which there isn’t.  They called into question the data collection methods of the ACLU, the lack of presence of West Hartford officials in the study, and a declining number of arrests since the implementation of the SRO program.

All of which sort of brings me back to square one.  The problem, folks, isn’t with the SROs, but is instead the institutional discrimination (likely not conscious) which calcifies the processes of almost any large scale organization.  This isn’t about some “boss” making decisions, it’s about the unexamined prejudices of the many, slowly rolling together into silent discrimination against the disempowered.

The argument, then, as of December 1st, 2008, looks like this:

The ACLU says:  The numbers demonstrate that children of different races and ethnicities are treated differently. (Implicit:  Institutional racism.  Look in the mirror).

WHPS says:  Oh, that’s a problem if it’s true.  Good thing we know it’s not true.  (We will not look in the mirror, but thanks).

Posted in Institutionalized Discrimination, Media, WHPS | Tagged: , , | 4 Comments »

ACLU Cites Higher Arrest Rates for Minority Students in West Hartford

Posted by whforums on November 18, 2008

The ACLU yesterday released a report about minority student arrest rates in Hartford, East Hartford and West Hartford that revealed some startling data. Some of the “highlights,” from the ACLU press release:

  • In 2006-2007, black and hispanic students represented 24 percent of the student population, but 63 percent of all arrests.
  • Black students in West Hartford were twice as likely to be arrested after a fight than were white students.
  • and … “students of color committing minor disciplinary infractions were more likely to get arrested than white students committing the very same offenses.”

In The Courant, Police Chief Strillacci responded skeptically, arguing that not all fights are made equal, that arrests can be a socially positive force and defending the School Resource Officers at Hall and Conard.

You can read the ACLU’s entire 50 page report here. For me, it’s weekend reading.

My quick .02, based on the highly publicized data — I think West Hartford’s SROs rock, and I think our teachers rock. But I find the data extremely disturbing. There’s a long pipeline of people between the incident that occurs, the documentation of that incident, the witnesses to that incident, the intervention of administration, the intervention of the SRO and the intervention of other officers. And all along that pathway there are opportunities for latent, unexamined and perhaps even unconsidered prejudice to accumulate and inflect the equal rights of all students. This is not an accusation of racism — this is an argument that we all hold unexamined prejudices that shape and impact our day to day experience and actions in ways we likely don’t notice. It’s also an argument that, because of that prejudice, school may be a very different place for a student depending on the tone of their skin. For a district as concerned with the achievement gap as West Hartford, that’s something that should make everyone stand up and take notice.

Given these numbers (and it’s the third bullet that really gets me), and whatever we think of the ACLU report, it seems that at the least it presents each of us with the opportunity to take a step back, examine our prejudices and our parenting. West Hartford, if there’s even a semblance of validity in these numbers, then somewhere, we (that’s you, me and our town as a whole) have a problem.

Another looming concern here — the potential scapegoating of the School Resource Officers, who, in this context make an easy target. Blaming the SROs seems not only irresponsible, but an easy way to “deal” with a problem without making it go away. School Resource Officers have difficult and dangerous jobs, and to lay a town’s problems at the feet of one public servant who enacts policy but does not influence it seems at best misguided …

Posted in Hartford, Uncategorized, West Hartford, WHPS | Tagged: , , | 1 Comment »