Group rallies for changes in Gwinnett County student discipline

About two dozen Gwinnett County residents held a rally at the Lawrenceville Square on Monday evening to voice their complaints about how the school district disciplines students, particularly those who are black or Hispanic.

The rally was organized by the Gwinnett SToPP Coalition, a group that has frequently raised concerns about the disproportionate percentage of non-white students who are disciplined by the district. Nearly 80 percent of Gwinnett students who’ve disciplinary hearings in the district are either black or Hispanic, school district data shows. Black and Hispanic students comprise about 60 percent of Gwinnett’s enrollment.

“We want education! No more incarceration!,” they chanted.

Speakers said they want the school district to enact policies that find alternatives to suspending or expelling students. They also want more non-white educators in executive roles, noting Gwinnett’s most senior African-American administrator, Frances Davis, retired last month after 15 years as Gwinnett’s Associate Superintendent for Human Resources and Talent Management.

Penny Poole, one of the speakers, said African-American students make up more than half of Gwinnett students who are sent to the district’s alternative schools, places for students with behavioral issues.

“That’s not by happenstance,” she told the group.

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Gwinnett administrators started a mentoring program several years ago, primarily for troubled African-American students, to steer they away from trouble. The district has gotten involved in a behavioral program used by most large school districts nationwide to employ strategies to reduce disruptive behavior and school violence.

The number of disciplinary hearings rose in Gwinnett from 1,289 during the 2014-15 school year to 1,588 during the 2015-16 school year, according to school district data. Gwinnett also had a slight increase in out-of-school suspensions, from 16,730 to 16,869.

Bullying did decrease during the same time period from 303 alleged incidents during the 2014-15 school year to 276 during the 2015-16 school year. There’s also been a decline in gang activity since the 2013-14 school year.

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