The US Department of Education’s Office of Civil Rights recently released data showing that public schools punish Black students more severely than their white peers. (See article here). As just one example, Black students are 3-1/2 times more likely to be suspended or expelled than white students. These facts should remind parents how important it is to talk to your kids–both boys and girls–about how to stay out of trouble at school and what to do if you do get into difficulties at school. Parents should have this conversation with their child before an incident happens so that the student has some guidelines to follow when the parents are not there. This conversation is appropriate for all education levels from elementary school through college.
One way to reinforce discussions with your child is to role-play different situations and have your child practice what he or she would say. Also, if you and your child are watching television programs with appropriate storylines, you can ask your child what he or she would do if they were in the same situation.
So, what kinds of things do you want to talk about to prepare your child if they end up facing disciplinary action at school? Here are a few suggested topics and thoughts on what parents can do that by no means cover the waterfront but are a good starting point:
- Be respectful. Remind your child that being polite and speaking respectfully to persons in authority positions–even when those persons may seem to be biased against the child or accusing him or her of wrongdoing–is crucial. It is important not to give school authorities any reason to accuse the student of further misbehavior based solely on how the student speaks to them. Also, people tend to listen to what you are saying when you say it in a respectful tone without raising your voice or becoming hostile.
- Talk to us (your parents) or a trusted adult immediately. Tell your child that if he or she gets into trouble or thinks he or she might be in trouble; tell you or some trusted adult immediately. Waiting to see what happens may be too late to make a difference. Better to have an adult come in early in the disciplinary process to advocate for the student before any final decision is made, since it may be hard to change or reverse that decision.
- Talk to us (your parents) or a trusted adult before admitting anything or trying to explain what happened. Sometimes school authorities try to question a student about an alleged incident before the student has a chance to talk with his or her parents or a trusted adult. The student may be scared and tell authorities only half the story or may tell authorities what the student thinks they want to hear. In most cases, the best course is to advise your child to politely but firmly ask to speak to you or trusted adult before answering any questions.
- If not offered by the school, ask if a parent or trusted adult can be with the student during any disciplinary procedures. It is often very helpful to have someone else there to keep the student calm or remind the student not to get angry or upset. It is also helpful to the parent or trusted adult to get a first hand sense of what is going on and the concerns of the school authorities. The parent or adult can be a better advocate for the student when they understand the context and the facts.
- Talk to other parents and teachers who have been through the process before. A parent should try to understand how the process works and who will be in attendance at any school meeting or proceeding. It can help to talk to teachers or other parents who have gone through the process before so that you and your child will know what to expect.