Shannon Griffin is a senior policy adviser for American Civil Liberties Union Delaware.
All of Delaware’s students deserve a safe, equitable and quality education, but schools in our state and across the country have a long way to go before we make that vision a reality. Violations of students’ rights, historic underfunding of public schools, systemic racism and violence in schools are all-too-common occurrences behind school walls. When we pause to look at how these factors contribute to discipline disparities, the reality of inequity in our classrooms is indisputable:
Fostering an inclusive school environment that supports student achievement and builds a sense of belonging cannot be accomplished in a vacuum — it takes a village.
A recent report published by the American Civil Liberties Union Delaware’s Equity in Education campaign, in partnership with the Charter School of New Castle, highlights approaches to successfully addressing discipline disparities and drastically reducing both in- and out-of-school suspension rates.
The secret? An inclusive school model that not only emphasizes the role of teachers and educational institutions but also focuses attention on student engagement and the responsibility of parents, caregivers and the broader community in creating an environment conducive to a child’s learning and development.
The Charter School of New Castle’s model adopts responsive school interactions that convey expectations that students belong in school and in their classes. Simply put, rather than punitive disciplinary measures to change the children’s actions, CSNC’s practices focus on changing the behavior of the adults who respond, both inside and outside of school.
Too often, schools ignore underlying problems that may impact student behavior. Students could be adapting to a disability or experiencing poverty, abuse or neglect, causing them to act out. The key lies in investing in training educators, school staff, parents and community members in restorative discipline practices that keep students in classrooms, rather than pushing them out. The Charter School of New Castle encourages problem solving and creates opportunities for students to take more responsibility for their own behavior, leading to better education outcomes and a path of civic engagement that can last far beyond their grade school years.
A child’s village is a reflection of our larger society’s values and priorities. Are we building inclusive support networks that welcome and value all students who walk through the doors? Or are we invested in fueling the school-to-prison pipeline by removing students from classes, subjecting them to physical restraint and interrogation, and risking their right to education, due process and equal treatment? Are we teaching our children patience or punishment, compassion or criminalization, belonging or bias? We get to decide.
Whether you currently have children in school or not, you are a part of the village, and it is the village that holds the power to make equity in education a standard in Delaware schools. We need community members who consistently show up to vote in school board elections. We need parents and caregivers who are equipped with the resources to advocate on behalf of their children’s needs. We need school board members who choose to invest in restorative discipline practices. We need lawmakers who are ready to fund preventive, trauma-informed interventions. We need the whole village.
“It takes a village” is not just an age-old cliche; it’s a call to action. It’s a reminder that every member of society — parents, neighbors, teachers, school administrators, elected officials — has a stake in our children’s education. A child’s success in school is not solely determined by their academic abilities but by the strength of the support village that surrounds them. When we all come together to support and nurture the next generation of Delawareans, we create a stronger state for everyone.
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