Thursday, August 28, 2008

Miseducation of Black Students in Gwinnett Schools

Superintendent J. Alvin Wilbanks has been at the helm of public schools in Gwinnett County, Georgia since 1996, currently the longest tenure in the nation. He has been called to task for comments he made at a board workshop a few weeks ago.

During a workshop he made an inflammatory comment about Black students during a presentation about the disproportionate discipline of minority students in Gwinnett COunty.

An administrator said the issue is a problem for school districts nationwide except in Idaho, according to a study. Wilbanks then asked James Taylor, executive director of the department of academic support, “Do they have any blacks in Idaho? They don’t have many.

A number of parents have been circulating the comment around the county and a number of folk have begun to ask for his resignation.

Wilbanks has offered what he considers an explanation for his comments:
[H]is comments were not meant to be “racist” or “insensitive.”

“Those who know me and my record are well aware of my commitment to raising student achievement and to providing safe and orderly schools for all of our students no matter their race, ethnic origin, or socioeconomic background. The NAACP certainly is aware of these efforts because we have involved them in some of our most significant efforts to ensure that our discipline policies are impartial and clear and in the best interest of all students.”

The Gwinnett Chapter NAACP, however, issued a statement Wednesday scolding Wilbanks for his comments. Branch president J.P. Portalatin said he called Gwinnett Schools on Wednesday to talk to Wilbanks, but was told that he was unavailable at the moment. The NAACP is not seeking Wilbanks’ resignation, but does want him to apologize.

One should note that African-American students made up less than one-third of the population at Gwinnett County Public Schools last academic year, but they accounted for nearly half of those facing disciplinary panels for bad behavior. Of 1,910 discipline hearings held in 2007-08 to dole out long-term suspensions or expulsions to students, 931 of those were held for black students. About 18 percent, or 345, discipline panels were held for white students.

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This past Monday, NAACP officials met with Superinendent Wilbanks; the meeting didn't go so well. Wilbanks has refused to apologize for comments he made about the disproportionate discipline of minority students in Gwinnett.

Gwinnett NAACP branch president Jorge "JP" Portalatin is quoted as saying, "Mr. Wilbanks refuses to acknowledge that his comments were offensive. His behavior today was condescending and he was clearly not open to constructive feedback. The inability to see from others perspective and apologize is unacceptable in a leader." Portalatin has said that Wilbanks’ remarks at the meeting seemed to blame African-Americans for the disparity in discipline in Gwinnett County instead of what could be the inconsistent application of the discipline penalties.

Some Gwinnett parents have called for Wilbanks’ resignation.

Wilbanks has "no comment" concerning his meeting with the NAACP!

And now Idahoans are looking for an apology from Wilbanks:
Idaho strives to raise student achievement and create a safe school environment by meeting the needs of all students, no matter a student’s race or ethnicity,” said Melissa McGrath, Public Information Officer for Idaho State Department of Education. “We are pleased to see the schools and districts in Idaho are treating students fairly and equitably when it comes to disciplinary action, and we will continue to work toward this goal in the future through providing extensive guidance and professional development for districts in the areas of working with aggression, alternatives to suspension and expulsion, student assistance programs, recognizing and addressing early delinquent behaviors and dropout prevention.

Read the AJC articles about the Wilbanks Affair in Gwinnett County here and here.

Blogger on the black hand side has a post about it, too.

plez sez: gwinnett county, georgia has experienced a lot of growth over the past decade. most of the new gwinnett residents appear to be Black and latino.

as is the case, when a system experiences rapid change, often times the system is unable to adequately adapt to changes. this appears to be the case in gwinnett county. this used to be an almost all-white enclave, the bastion of white flight from atlanta and dekalb county in the 1980's as large numbers of Blacks moved into what were white sections of the metro Atlanta area. well, it is predicted that white people will be a minority in gwinnett county within 10 years.

a school system that is run by "old guard" white folk ALWAYS have issues in how to educate and deal with children who happen to have brown skin. these brown-skinned students (who tend to be African-American or latino) will generally be enrolled in slower paced special education classes and these students will also tend to be reprimanded, suspended, and expelled at a much higher rate that their white-skinned counterparts.

i'm sorry, but plezWorld doesn't make The Rules!

it is unfortunate that wilbanks made such an utterance. even though i don't find the comment patently racist, in these p.c. times, it does appear to be racially insensitive... especially, in light of the fact that there are scant few Black folks in the state of idaho!

the problem of the education of our Black children runs a lot deeper than the analysis into the number of Blacks in idaho! i don't understand why anyone would call for his resignation, but i also don't see the big deal with wilbanks offering a token apology to those whom he may have offended.


Torrance Stephens - All-Mi-T said...

off topic

Hey Jones
just came over to say ,. THAT COMMENT ROCKED

bravo, i guess u could tell i was trying to be nice. Not ponly did u have me rolling, but u refreshed me - glad i aint the only one who see this, haymakers, bricks and all

gotta get breakfast done and kids off to school will comment on this later

Hathor said...

I think Wilbanks should be fired, he sets the tone of the whole school system. His perceptions do influence the way black and brown students are disciplined and also how they are taught.

It is in the same tone from the superintendant when I was in school; "You nigra children sure knowhow to sing." So you can imagine what resourses we got.

In that atmossphere what would it take a black or brown student to get noticed, allowed to participate and to be gradely correctly or to not be designated a learning disabled.

Tony said...

I have been in Gwinnett County for almost 10 years, and I have seen several gifted African American children denied participation in the academically challenging classes that would excel their learning capabilities. Being an advocate for multi-cultural education, the comments Superintendent Wilbanks has made seem to be a bit ignorant on his part. How can you compare apples to oranges and quickly identify the problem patronistically as a numbers issue? That shows a very simple mind in his analytics of what should be a concerning issue in his district. Instead, he seemed as if he smirked and made little of the issue by stating progress and good disciplinary actions to be that of a state that has less blacks to (what I gathered in his mind) deal with. He is leaving out a more complex assessment on the record of discipline given by each school and its treatment by the faculty in handling issues between black students and white students in the classroom.

Now I have personally witnessed my neighbors vow for their white children's inappropriate disciplinary actions to be inconsistent of their character. In these cases, the child was given a slap on the wrist and a quick counseling session between the student, parent and teacher several times for surmounting issues. When a child of color is having the same issues, they tend to get two strikes and then off to detention they go. Some get one warning, and then off to detention (if a former teacher forewarns of a student's behavior in their class the previous year). We are looking for fair treatment for similar disciplinary issues. I for one have to go up to the school about my child who has never been in trouble until one girl's parent made a racist remark to my child, which was a major issue at this school last year. Now the new teacher has learned of this and is giving my child a behavioral check for every little thing. It's unfortunate that I will have to pull her out of that class (and I will) because I am not going to let another teacher's prejudices hamper my straight A student's self-esteem or grades. Wilbanks needs to either step aside or hire a commission to really deal with this issue and form an objective assessment of the problem. I don't need an apology. I need action and reprimands for those faculty that have handled discipline in an inappropriate or unfair way (regardless of their skin color).