17 Apr 34 Years of Intrigue: The South Bend Community School System
Recently, a question of disproportionality in disciplinary action taken against african-american students has been a topic of concern for the area. The conclusions of this discussion, I felt were dubious. I’ve tried to, very briefly break down why that is, and how the history of discrimination in South Bend Schools has effected the problem’s we’re dealing with today. However to do so, we need to begin at the end of this debate, and work our way back to the beginning, starting with the last editorial written on the matter of student citations in the South Bend Tribune:
Each student carries a host of issues with them to school every day. Family, health and wellness, nutrition, outside activities and other elements all combine to influence a student’s behavior on any particular day. Pursuing a cookie-cutter approach to discipline through the issuance of tickets seems, at the very least, counterproductive.
-South Bend Tribune Editorial Opinion, March 27, 2015, emphasis added.
When Kim Kilbride, educational beat reporter at the South Bend Tribune began working to curtail the issuance of tickets by police to students, she effectively tied the hands of our school’s last means of flexibile disciplinary action. By law, a cookie-cutter approach to discipline is the only method educators have of enforcing code of conduct policy within the South Bend Community School Corporation.
The lingering question is: what purpose do Student Resource Officers serve that educators can not? The answer surprisingly was in a bit of semantic misdirection the Tribune deployed in that same editorial.
Issuing tickets for student misbehavior in South Bend schools seems to be a policy on its way out, if this year’s ticket count is any indication. That’s good because it was a flawed policy from the start that resulted in more questions than answers.
-South Bend Tribune Editorial Opinion, March 27, 2015, emphasis added.
Citation data, at a glance, reveal that SRO’s never deal with basic “misbehavior” or simple code of conduct violations like the dress code, for instance. Instead the data indicates that their responsibilities are to address and resolve the most violent, criminal, and disruptive behaviors to occur on school grounds.
Kilbride failed to follow up on Head SRO Eric Crittendon’s claim that Officers use tickets as a means of last resort. Citation data, when compared to In School and Out of School detention rates clearly indicate that they are indeed rarely issued.
In a single year (2008-2009), over 4,000 In and Out of School Suspensions were issued to students at Washington High School alone (PDF Warning), Indiana Department of Education reports showed. Compared to tickets issued by SROs, which totaled and rounded upwards is roughly 8 citations per school, per year (or 69.6 across 9 schools per year between 2010-2014).
The negative reaction to student citations by concerned members of the community has been a result of irresponsible and sloppy journalism that neglected to thoroughly review or analyze citation data meaningfully. Rather than trusting black leaders like Eric Crittendon and his officers who are amongst our students every day, emphasis was placed on the opinions of community members with a racial agenda, like Oletha Jones, NAACP chairperson. The SRO division of the South Bend police, by their own demographic makeup are extremely racially diverse. Their diversity gives doubt to the implication of universal bias guiding their ticketing of students on school grounds.
The Tribune’s editors also chose to print her story after two weeks of sustained rioting following the events in Ferguson Missouri. Whether an intentional or not, the timeliness gave this story traction it may not have otherwise had.
Understanding our public school’s history with discrimination is key to comprehending the necessity of SRO’s, and how they ultimately enable educators to deal with behavior that is much more extreme then forgetting to bring a pencil to class.
This year marks the 35 anniversary of the 1980 consent decree issued by the SBCSC in response to a federal order to desegregate. The method in which our school system, and policy was reorganized demonstrates the necessity of an outside organization to offer help in disciplining students who need it most.
The history of desegregation in South Bend is complex. Books could be written about the efforts of the School Board, Steering Committee, and 30 citizen volunteers who consistently provided guidance and input for the restructuring of our school system during that era. As it stands, a humble black binder and the proposal booklet in the Historical Section of the Main Branch Library is all the documentation that remains of this effort.
While desegregation efforts began in 1967, it wouldn’t be until 1979 that Superintendent James P. Scamman’s leadership would, in earnest, begin the desegregation process.
One year later, the federal desegregation order turned Scamman’s efforts from ‘a priority’, into ‘the priority’. A complete reorganization of school districting, resources, facilities, and methodologies called Option IV was designed in 1981 and implemented in the fall of 1982.
Similar to Plan Z it addressed districting, student population distribution, and demographic stability across the school system. Plan Z is continually revised due to shifting demographic densities across the city of South Bend. Our school system, cannot tell you where to live, but it must make sure enrollment of black students is equally distributed across it’s facilities. Whenever the issue arises, however, the Tribune treats it as if it’s the height of controversy.
Option IV, however also included plans for the equity of curriculum, discipline, facilities, finances, activities, and various other functions and services the school system provides.
Pre-1982, accounts from the disciplinary sub-committee imply that principals and other administrators often set their own disciplinary code of conduct guidelines on a school to school basis. Teacher’s were provided hand books that guided dealing with disciplinary issues with students that were often written by those same principals.
Under Option IV such flexibility was restricted in order to protect children from potential discrimination by the prejudice of individuals in positions of authority. There are trade offs and benefits to both methods.
This cookie-cutter approach is by legal standards the method in which opportunity and equality is demonstrably achieved. However, it does leave administrator’s hands tied to specific situations that would require a more subtle approach, or an interpersonal connection to resolve. Educators, Principals, and Vice-Principals can no longer mentor students in a more personal capacity for fear of legal reprisal for a multitude of reasons, race being one amongst many. That role has fallen to Eric Crittendon and his Student Resource Officers.
It’s important to note that no lawsuit made public since the 1964 civil rights act was signed into law has ever been brought against the South Bend School System on the basis of racial discrimination. That does not mean there are not private settlements we’re unaware of, however.
The only exception however was the desegregation order itself, but it was not by any stretch remarkable at the time. Jimmy Carter’s Attorney General had issued hundreds of desegregation orders to school systems nation wide between 1978 through 1980.
Dr. Scamman chose not to pursue a legal defense against it due to the expense, likely in consideration of an expensive union contract signed with the National Educators Association in 1979. Despite that consideration, the price tag of Option IV resulted in the SBCSC’s failure to meet financial contractual obligations to the Teacher’s Union. The NEA would sue the school corporation and win the ruling 5 years later. This financial decision likely enhanced the mystique surrounding the consent decree as an admission of guilt, when, a consent decree by legal definition implies no such liability.
I would never try and suggest that the desegregation of our schools are in anyway a bad thing. I personally could not imagine my childhood without the multi-cultural and diverse experiences having an integrated school system provided. In order to understand Student Resource Officers, their involvement, and necessity, we have to first acknowledge what policy options might have been implemented in a world where Option IV never came into existence.
Option IV and the consent decree, by design has effectively limited options and the ability to set standards, and enforce them throughout our schools in ways that are appropriate and meet the unique needs of the geographic region a school is in, and the unique needs of each graduating class to pass through its halls.
Crittendon and the South Bend Police are not held to the same standards as educators in our community when it comes to the necessity of ‘cookie cutter approaches’. That’s a good thing. Because kids being kids will sometimes make really poor choices; and if we were to implement Kilbride’s vision of a consistent police policy to student criminal activity, without the firewall of citations as a means of last resort, Kim may have accidentally helped create the School to Prison Pipeline she wrote about on March 23rd.
Actions have consequences, and the South Bend Police were making sure that the consequences didn’t unnecessarily place kids having a bad day on the rolls of the Juvenile Justice Center.
In the coming days I’ll be turning a far more critical eye to the work the Tribune did in order to substantiate my stance that they royally screwed this up and have done a great work of injustice, instead of mercy.