The Boulder Valley School District punishes black and Latino students at disproportionately higher rates than most districts in Colorado. Parents continue to call for accountability

The district’s discipline matrix, which he created in 2020 to offer punishment guidance to schools, makes no mention of self-defense. Richmond thinks it should, to encourage educators to consider the context surrounding abuse cases.

“If it’s not on paper, and we don’t have a clear and definitive definition of what these things are and the consequences that may or may not apply to them, then we leave too much room for interpretation and to trust people who have blind spots and biases,” she said. “And I think that leaves an open space for discrimination.”

Anderson, superintendent of BVSD, agrees that bullying is a concern. The district has made it easier to report bullying on its website. But he said it’s hard to balance physical strength with school safety.

“If you’re blocking punches so you don’t hurt yourself, that’s self-defense. If you get into a physical altercation with someone else, we don’t consider that to be self-defense,” he said.

Parents may appeal disciplinary action to the district school board. But Jorge Chavez, chairman of the District Accountability Committee, an oversight committee required by state law, said some parents were struggling to speak up.

“I’m pretty lucky. I am an immigrant, but I am bilingual. I know how the system works here,” Chavez said. “For many parents who don’t feel comfortable with the English language, who don’t know the education system, who don’t have the resources and the time to get involved, it is more difficult for them to make their voices heard. their voices raised where their concerns are heard.

“We all have unconscious biases”

Anthony Albidrez/Boulder Reports Lab
The administrative office of the Boulder Valley School District in Boulder.

The district is open to discussing how structural inequities contribute to disparities in discipline. But some want it to do more to recognize racial bias among staff.

“The root cause is racism. We have to call it by name so we can address it. I’m not saying teachers are bad people or anything. We all have unconscious biases,” Fernandez said. Frank, of CAPL, the acronym of the Spanish name of the parent group, Consejo Asesor de Padres Latinos.

That’s why, above all else, parents want the district to hire more black and Latino teachers and staff. Children do better in school when their teachers are like them. BVSD teachers were 86% white last year, about the same as the state average. Their students were 67% white.

In February, the neighborhood hosted a “Teachers of Color Hiring Event.” Boulder pays teachers more than any other district in the state. But Anderson said the area’s high cost of housing and low turnover make hiring difficult. “It becomes extremely difficult to try to diversify your workforce very quickly because you just don’t have the vacancies.”

Parent groups also asked for data on teacher disciplinary dismissals. And they want the district to include in staff evaluations any racial disproportionality in their punishment of students. They also want a public process for filing and tracking complaints of discrimination.

“They hold children accountable for their actions. And I think it’s fair that adults are held to a similar standard,” Fernandez Frank said.

Anderson opposes such measures.

“I don’t think that’s a good idea. I think it creates a culture of fear. You have to have open people to get better,” Anderson said. “My goal here is not to blame people. It’s to address systemic issues.

The district has already initiated monthly meetings in each school to find solutions. This may include cultural competency training. “That’s why you have these conversations locally,” he said. “Locally, there may be teachers who need additional training or grade levels who want additional training.”

This difference is likely to remain a sticking point.

“I don’t want to wait for them to correct their unconscious biases. I want them not to be in contact with the children,” said Fernandez Frank. “These children will continue to suffer until this teacher learns. And I don’t think that’s fair to students.

This story is part of Chasing Progress, a Colorado News collaborative project on social, economic, and health equity between black and Latino Coloradans.

Chasing Progress is a multi-newsroom report run by the Colorado News Collaborative project examining the social, economic and health equity of Blacks and Latinos Coloradans over the past decade. The project builds on “Losing Ground” from 2013, a I-News/RMPBS series that tracked similar measures from 1960 to 2010. We welcome stories of your experiences over the past decade as well as suggestions for future Chasing Progress stories at [email protected]

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