This school year, students in San Antonio Independent School District will no longer be disciplined for the offense of “insubordination.”
In what constitutes a victory for equity and students’ civil rights, a term that has too often been wielded as a catch-all offense – disproportionately impacting young people of color, living in poverty, and with special educational needs – has been eliminated from the code of conduct SAISD students are expected to follow while attending the district’s public schools.
In a year of tense relations between district administrators and the organized voice of SAISD teachers and support personnel, the decision to revise the student code of conduct represents a rare example of the power of cooperation and collaboration between district leaders and educators. We should celebrate this decision both for its potential impact on San Antonio’s students and for providing an example of the official consultation process’ effectiveness in transforming SAISD into a model urban school district befitting its mission statement and core values.
“Insubordination” has no objective features – it’s a discretionary, highly subjective offense that differs drastically from teacher to teacher, administrator to administrator, and student to student.
Of all the offenses that contribute to the overrepresentation of young people of color in discipline referrals nationwide, “insubordination” provides the most glaring example of both the personal implicit biases of educators and the structural features of an education system that fails to respect and protect urban students of color.
According to a 2015 study of discipline data across the Southern United States, SAISD suspends black students at disproportionately high rates: at 2.2 times the rate of their representation in the student population. Black students constitute 6.5 percent of the district’s student population and 14 percent of all suspensions, mirroring a trend throughout Texas and the Southern U.S.
Removing “insubordination” as a disciplinary offense constitutes a small step toward dismantling the mechanisms by which such a disproportionate impact is manifested in our schools’ daily operations.
While this small victory incrementally moves us toward education that focuses on the interests of our students and their families, it doesn’t extend to greater issues facing our communities. We must move toward dismantling the school-to-prison and deportation pipeline, deprioritizing law enforcement solutions to behavior issues in our schools, and providing substantive protections to our undocumented community members that go far beyond what is proposed in our district’s SB4 handbook.
What we should learn and heed from this small victory is that collaboration between district leaders and classroom educators is not only possible, it is the only means by which our schools may be transformed into the spaces of learning and liberation that they might be.
Consultation – a meeting of district leaders and representatives of the teachers and support personnel who serve SAISD communities, mandated by district policy and a ?federal court decision? – is the appropriate space for collaboration.
Collaboration doesn’t mean agreement on every issue or the end of ?conflict over competing views? of what’s best for our communities. But it does mean that all stakeholders should be meaningfully involved in making decisions about our public schools.
Such a process of respectful collaboration and authentic democratic participation can and does produce extraordinary results for our students. The same way teachers should model cooperation for students who look up to them as example of engaged citizenship – which sometimes means speaking unpopular truths to power – district officials also should strive set an example of responsible democratic leadership.
The most concrete means by which such leadership could be displayed would be to meaningfully engage with the democratic consultation process outlined in district policy and expand it to center student and community voices in those discussions.