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Kansas City Public Schools on verge of addressing suspensions disparities

KCPS HQ JUNE 2021
Posted at 10:17 PM, Jun 22, 2021
and last updated 2021-06-22 23:45:40-04

KANSAS CITY, Mo. — The Kansas City Public School District is on the verge of changing how it handles student suspensions.

"We haven't closed the gap on how our Black kids are being suspended in comparison to how our Hispanic students and White students have been suspended," Dr. Mark Bedell, superintendent of Kansas City Public Schools, said.

It's a disparity within KCPS that Bedell said he wishes could have been tackled sooner.

"We're creating this 'can-do' mentality in that we're not going to throw you under the bus when you make mistakes or when you act out," Bedell said.

There's now a shift from reacting to student behavior with punishment to instead responding with interventions and support. The district Board of Education will vote on the changes at its meeting on Wednesday.

The proposal comes after a series of meetings that included input from parents, such as Amanda Campbell.

"If we're suspending them saying, 'Hey, you can't even come to school,' we're setting that expectation for them," Campbell said. "And they are starting to think that they're a bad kid, and I always explain to my children, like, there are no bad children. There are bad behaviors, and there are things that we need to correct, but you've got to get to the root of it."

The updated policy states that out-of-school suspensions should be reserved for extreme situations, such as harm to self or others across grade levels.

For elementary school students, suspensions are off the table altogether for behaviors that don't rise to a certain level.

"And down the line if you build on that, from first all the way through, they know what to do when they, you know, they know how to behave, what's appropriate and what's not," Ron Carter, co-chair of More2's education task force, said.

For those who do get suspended, the district would require interventions connecting them and their families with resources to deal with trauma.

"It's not always something that's black and white," Kenton Campbell, Amanda's husband, said. "It could be something at home. It could be something outside of school, that could be getting bullied, but they don't know how to express themselves or have that language. And that's where we got to step in and help them communicate and have that language."

Other proposed changes include making language in dress code updates more inclusive and a learner's bill of rights.

"It is about reinstating hope, revitalizing kids that have been placed in a very disadvantaged and unfair scenario, because of adult behaviors," Bedell said.

The KCPS school board will vote on the updates when they meet at 5:30 p.m. Wednesday.