This week I spent time at the Department of Education for Virginia, attending a Board of Education meeting. If you’ve never attended a board meeting for your district or state, I highly recommend it. This is the second time I’ve attended at this level and I’m learning so much about the political and policy processes involved.
The most interesting topic on this agenda was the regulations on seclusion and restraint. During public comment early in the meeting this was overwhelmingly the most frequent topic. People came from a variety of organizations to speak about concerns on the new regulations. Concerns that the regulations are too harsh or concerns that the regulations are to restrictive for the school personnel. My gut says the regulations need to ensure that students are not treated in harmful ways. But I recognize that there is so much I do not understand about what is needed by administrations and especially at different age levels, so I’m not ready to make a strong statement as I would like.
I am, however, ready to make a statement on something I think has been missing from the conversation. My concern with many regulations that are designed around punishment or anything that students might see as punishment is that they are often followed in ways that harm students of color. I don’t have the statistics on seclusion or restraint, but I would be willing to bet significant amounts of money that children of color are secluded or restrained at far higher percentages than white children.
Unless we have plans for addressing racial disparities, we are failing at creating useful regulations. Administration groups spoke at this meeting about their need to be able to seclude students in case of suspicion that a student has a weapon or if students need to be interviewed about an altercation. Okay. I get that. But is the suspicion because a student isn’t white? Racism is far too ingrained in our society to believe that it doesn’t play a role in decisions to seclude or restrain students. When this isn’t even a part of the conversation we aren’t serving all of our students.