The Impact of Racism on Discipline for Students of Color with Disabilities: a Webinar
with John-Pierre LaFleur, M.Ed.
School Counselor, East Baton Rouge Parish School System
Mr. LaFleur believes that significant relationships with students and families can lead to significant learning at school and home.
Students of color are more likely to be identified as having a disability and face harsher discipline than their white classmates. We will discuss what this can look like in schools, how parents and educators can work together to support students without turning to disciplinary measures, and the power parents have in advocating for their children.
Watch Webinar Video:
For our visually impaired listeners, I am a African American female with glasses with a bun in my hair and a noticeable big pimple at the moment. I thank you all for coming and sharing with us today. In order to make sure that everyone have access to this webinar, the information will be saved in live caption in English and Spanish. You can click on your closed caption button at the bottom of your screen, and all of the information will come up. And we also have the chat feature. For the chat feature, we hope that you all place many questions that we’ll be able to answer once Mr. Pierre LaFleur finish his presentation. If you want to send a anonymous question, you can send it to hosts and panelists. And now you’re seeing where you can check. You see the anonymous button, you can check it right there to send your anonymous questions. Now, a little bit about who we are, Exceptional Lives. Remember everyone, that the live captions are available in English. We will have both English and Spanish captions on the recording available at a later time. So Exceptional Lives is a organization that offer free information for families of students with disabilities. We encourage all our families to utilize our resources, which is available on the internet, and you also can contact us. And some things about what we do. We provide services about local providers and programs. We give perspectives for parents. We connect families with other families on social media, and we like to give really step by step support on how to navigate services for children with disabilities in Louisiana. Basically, we are here for you. I also would like to share some exciting news. Lately, we have added a new program, which is the podcast. The podcast is Just Needs, episode one. We had episode three and episode five for you all. And just to make sure that everyone is up and vibrant, we like to do a quick poll. Quick poll, what is your favorite, cookies or brownies? Lastly, Exceptional Lives are also looking for you. We will love for you and your family to share your story with other families. We also would love for you all to be part of Exceptional Lives family feedback team, and it’s just a commitment of two hours per month. Participants will be paid for their time. During this time, you will be asked to either answer surveys, join discussion groups, or recruit other families. Again, you can find all of this information at exceptionallives.org. And also for that quick poll, I see that both of you all are just like me. Cookies or brownies, why not both? And next, I would like to also introduce our… Families, I’m sorry, one other quick poll before we get started, can you please tell us who you are? Okay, so we’ll have the poll results after. I have the pleasure. I would like to welcome Mr. John-Pierre LaFleur, but I also like to introduce him to you all. Mr. John-Pierre LaFleur works for ninth and 10th grade students in the East Baton Rouge School System. In addition to implementing school council curriculum, he co-leads an afterschool mentoring program where he has upperclassmens working one to one with upperclassmens. He has been nominated for the Newcomer of the Year for the counseling department and receive awards from his school. He has a BS from Southern University and a master’s in counseling, school counseling and marriage and family therapy with a emphasis on play therapy from John Brown University. I welcome Mr. John-Pierre LaFleur.
[John-Pierre] Greetings. Good afternoon. I’m very, very grateful to be a part of this webinar with you all. I’m so glad I’m able to know who’s in the audience today as well. So thank you all for completing that survey as well. Very, very much appreciate that. So my name once again is John-Pierre LaFleur. I am a black man in my 30s. I have short, black hair. I have on black glasses and a purple shirt. And I cannot wait to talk about this topic with you all this afternoon. So our topic for today is going to be the impact of racism on discipline for students of color with disabilities. And what I would love to do briefly is just give you a nice overview and agenda of what to expect or what topics we’re gonna be discussing if we could just go to that next slide. So we’re gonna do just a very brief get to know you activity, and hopefully you’ll see through just the flow of this presentation, I am gonna be talking, but I really love the feedback from you all. I see who’s in the audience, and I really think that that’s so many things that you can share and bring to light as a part of this presentation as well. So I will especially be looking forward to your feedback, but we’re gonna take a look at some underlooked perceptions, some common examples of harsher treatment. I don’t wanna just focus on the negative. So we will transition a lot of our verbiage to a more positive approach to dealing with these concerns in schools. And of course, we’ll talk about coping with the impact of racism, and then we’ll close out with a very, very brief mindfulness activity. What I would like to ask you all, and I would love for you to just put this in the chat, please, at this time, can you all just share with me, what were some things you all were expecting to get out of this presentation? And once again, if you wouldn’t mind, please just put that in the chat, and we’ll take a few minutes here, one to two minutes for you to type that down. What are you expecting to get out of this presentation? Okay, I see approaches for getting teachers to see my son for who he is. Want to learn a better way for all kids, love that. Ideas on how to recognize and also call out instances of a child being treated unfairly. Hmm, I like that. Okay, okay. I really, really appreciate you all sharing in the chat. Please continue to put your post. Hmm, a better understanding of the impact. So it’s hard to find data with both race and ethnic, excuse me, race, ethnicity, and disability, and discipline. Okay, very nice, very nice. I really appreciate that, Mom, thank you. How to work with the school district when a child is being treated unfairly. Okay, okay. And I would like to see a real change. I really appreciate you posting that too. I can’t promise it, but I want you to know I’m working towards that as well, for sure. So as I stated, I would love for you all to continue to just post those in the chat. We will continue to review them as we go through the presentation. If we could go to the next slide, please. So, I wanted to share a few statistics with you all. So one in four black boys with disabilities are suspended each year compared to the only one in 10 white boys with disabilities. Black male students from low income backgrounds receiving special education services are actually suspended at the highest rates of any subgroup. And then I found this pretty interesting too. The Office of Civil Rights, OCR, they conducted some surveys not too long ago in the near past, and their data showed persistent disparities over time in the use of exclusionary discipline. And it was specific to those students who faced the challenges of having a disability. Now, these statistics really, really just hit me at an alarming rate. It’s not something that I was too surprised at, but as a black male myself, it does resonate with me just a little bit more how people of color are treated dealing with a disability as opposed to their counterparts. And I think that it’s really important for us to address and acknowledge that is an issue, so that real change can’t happen. So many times the way discipline is done towards people of color is overlooked. I do think I understand why dealing with them being the minority subgroup, but what’s important is for us to encourage more people of color to get involved in this process, to be a part of the educational systems, to be sitting on boards when these policies are putting in place, so that we can see more change happening. So, I really just wanna stress to you how personal this concern is for me as well. If we could go to the next slide, I am gonna ask you all just a quick question, and I’d love for you all to, once again, put this in the chat. Can you all share a time when you’ve witnessed some disparities in the use of discipline toward a child of color? And I would really love for it to be an experience that has happened recently, but even if it was from a few years ago, that’ll be fine as well. But I’m curious just to know, what experiences you all have witnessed yourselves as parents, as being in the community, or just being at school? And once again, we’ll just take just a few minutes for you all to type that down in the chat box for us. These statistics from the previous slide were pretty shocking and alarming, I think, for a lot of parents to see, but sad, but true. It is a reality that people of color are faced with on a day to day basis. Here’s one particular scenario. At the parents middle school, the school resource officer was called in only when the boys of color were acting out and almost never for when the white kids were acting out. And this is clearly a pretty common occurrence that happens in the schools, unfortunately. And I really appreciate you sharing that comment. And I really appreciate this last comment. Sometimes it is hard to share those experiences, especially in areas that are majority white and frequently racist. Very, very good point. So one parent has put in that the director has witnessed the white students getting teaching moments while the black students get disciplined. Wow. That is terrible. As I said, though, these disparities are something that we definitely see throughout education, unfortunately. And we have one, not with color, but with disability. Parent is saying that she saw a child would tell the teacher he was nervous about coming to school and he was just told to get over it. Wow, so that patience, that kindness that we really would expect the teacher to share in those moments was not implemented for this child with a disability. Once again, I can’t hound on enough how important it is for us to encourage more people of color to get involved, and, once again, I wanna stress not just with education, but in any areas within the community, within this framework of life, for us to see significant change happen for our people. So I really just wanna say thank you for these examples that have been typed in. I’m gonna read this last one. A first grader with an IEP being suspended, because of the child emotional behavior when this information was already noted it within the IEP. So it’s already been documented. The school should be in correspondence with the behavior that the child is implementing, and the child is still getting disciplined as a result. So I thank you so much for sharing that one with us as well. If we could, can we move to the next slide? So here are some common examples of harsher treatment that children or youth with disabilities find too often in our society today. And number one, I really had to make sure I hounded on this point, the lack of relationship building. I can’t stress enough how much I believe that significant relationships lead to significant learning. And I do especially believe that if more time was taken from the people at school, from my parents at home, and of course, working in conjunction with the student to establish those relationships, we really would see a significant difference and improvement in behavior. But I must say, too oftentimes, the speed in which those relationships tend to develop for children of color with disabilities is at a much slower rate than our white counterparts. Now, I think maybe relatability could be part of that rationale, but once again, if we could have more people of color within the system working with these children with disabilities who are people of color, I sincerely think we would see a greater emphasis on recognizing those relationships between people at the school and, of course, with our students. And what I wanna stress is when I talk about people at the school, I’m not just talking about the teacher, I’m talking about administrators, I’m talking about 504 coordinators, school counselors. It all is supposed to work in conjunction together in order to make this thing work. Another example of a harsher treatment is restraining, being restrained. So restrained in school much more frequently than students without disabilities. And something else that I found pretty interesting when I saw this specific statistic was that there are two different types of ways to restrain students. So there’s a physical restraint, and there’s a mechanical restraint, and both restraints are used much more frequently on students with disabilities as opposed to those without. That’s a problem as well. Too oftentimes, we see students of color with disabilities oftentimes being bullied as well. Now, this is gonna affect not only their social development, getting to know their peers and classmates, but it also hurts their awareness for how they feel the environment is supposed to be. We want the schools and wherever our children are to be a welcoming environment, once again, especially at school, and if bullying is not being addressed, I mean, how can we expect improvement? So, I really am glad that this particular example was also listed. We’ve already gone over how they’re more likely to get suspended. Truancy is also a very, very unfortunately major issue as well. But what I wanna make sure I point out when I discuss truancy and how the statistics lead that children of color are more likely, excuse me, children of color with a disability are more likely to dress out, excuse me, drop out is because of the amount of education attention being spent on the children of color. And I think that is a problem that we have to highlight and do something about immediately, because if they’re not getting the attention that they need from an educational standpoint, how can we expect them to achieve higher and higher heights and continue on with school? They have to work together, not against each other. And of course, neglecting to address learning and attention issues, this is something of common practice, unfortunately, with children of color with disabilities. And I do think, although they’re being treated this way, I do think there are some approaches that we can take on as parents, as school leaders, and as people in the community to make things right or to make things better. Can we go to the next slide? So once again, as I stated before, I wanna make sure I transition. I know we were hitting a lot of the negatives there, but I would love to transition to a more positive approach. The title of this slide is a positive holistic approach, and I really want to emphasize the holistic part or the holistic aspect of this particular title. So, it’s not just something we have to put on the teachers. It’s not just something that needs to be done at home. It’s not all on our community, but I do believe if we are all working together in conjunction, collaborating, it’s gonna do so much good for the child, because they will see energy, number one, being put in to work with them to work for them, and also we’ll be modeling behavior that we want them to implement in their day to day life anyway. Okay, so let’s first start at home. I definitely think it’s important for families and not just the parents, of course, but the entire family system to work on skills at home to improve interactions and relationships. And I do believe we have a lot of parents out there that are doing so at home. But what I don’t think is happening is that conversation, I shouldn’t say isn’t happening, I don’t think it’s happening enough is that conversation between home and school. And when I say the conversation between home and school, I’m referring to the conversation of what parents are doing at home with their child and at school. I think that what’s being worked on at home can be reinforced in the classroom, or reinforced by administrators, different extracurricular activities that the youth may be involved in as well. And if they’re hearing it from all of these different people, and it’s the same information, I do believe, number one, they’ll start to see that, obviously, these adults care about me, but more importantly, I think we will see a improvement in uptick in the behavior. I really think that at the school level, that open communication with parents is essential. And I know sometimes, we may be involved with an administrator or a teacher that is not as communicative to us, especially to those parents who have children of color. There’s no doubt about that, but I think it’s still important for us to try our best to establish that relationship. As a matter of fact, I think it’s essential. I really believe that rapport, and, of course, once again, that that relationship of knowing, hey, this person cares about me, this person also is investing their time to know what my interests are, will really, really have a positive effect on our children. Now, we’ve spoken about the home piece and the school piece. I just wanna make sure I transition right over to the community piece as well. And in our communities, I really think, as I stated earlier, being involved in those extracurricular activities can also be such a great thing to help improve and impact the racism going on in the schools. And I guess you guys may be wondering, how would that have anything to do with what’s going on in school, right? It’s a good question, but it has a lot to do, because the more we can model the behavior that we want our children to implement and emphasize, the more likely that they’re going to actually do those behaviors. So we have to make sure we are doing our part to encourage it in as many ways as we can. So I really think that this approach is not the end all be all. I don’t think that it’s the only way of getting things worked on, but I must stress that I do believe if we are able to encourage a lot more of this type of behavior in the schools, we’ll see a drastic improvement. Can we go to the next slide, please? And this next slide is just some other very helpful considerations that I think would be very, very important for parents, as well as youth to implement. And of course, I know, parents, you’re not gonna stop advocating for your babies, right? Please continue to do that. Research best practices that are good for your student, for your child. So many times we wanna fit our children in a particular box, but, no, we shouldn’t do that, and we can’t do that. It’s very important for us to have that plan laid out specific that works for our children. I also think, of course, investing in and prioritizing hiring educational professionals with the expertise and cultural and linguistic considerations and identification can also be extremely, extremely helpful. I don’t think that we should always act like we have all the answers. We don’t. So seeking out that assistance can be very helpful, and it can kinda lessen that burden upon us. I definitely think seeking outside expertise to implement training on disability identification that includes consideration for linguistic and cultural differences is extremely important. We have to make sure we’re not thinking just because we’ve seen this over and over again, hey, we know what this is. We know what this looks like. No, that’s not the case. Every child is different, period, end of story, and we have to start seeing children that way as well, especially our children of color who have been overlooked for quite some time now. The next consideration is definitely something that I’ve kind of been preaching throughout this presentation, but we definitely have to diversify our school staff workforce, and that’s not just the teachers, but that’s administrators. That’s people working in the district, our law makers, our policy makers. We all need to see a lot more diversity. And I think we need to incentivize the use of culturally responsive approaches as well. I do think we would see more if we were able to implement that. And then of course, it would be helpful for us to see some alternative measures to address discipline. Now, what I wanna make sure I stress is that a lot of these considerations may not be something that you can put your hand on at this very moment. It would take some assistance, some collaborations, but it is not impossible for us to do. And I think, once again, if we can work together, we can see it happen. Can we go to the next slide, please? All right, so I know, like I said, we really did hound on the negative there a little bit, but is there any positive discipline interactions that have involved a student of color that you know of? Can you share that with us if you have? And what I like like to ask you is, how do you know it was positive? And while we’re typing that in the chat, I would like to share a positive discipline interaction that involved the student of color. So, I know of a student who has a disability. She has been recommended for expulsion. I’m sorry, she’s been recommended for suspension. And because of the disparities mentioned previously, just the being overlooked as a child with disabilities, the district has implemented some specific ways to make sure we are not just dumping a suspension on a child. So there’s a lot more are hurdles that have to kind of go through for us to get to that final verdict of a child being suspended or a child being expelled. And I do think that that is one way districts can at least mitigate the suspensions and the expulsions that are going towards students that have a disability. I think it’s really essential, very important for us to make sure that we are doing what we can, not only on the front end, but on the back end as well just to make sure that whatever discipline action has been expressed or displayed is fair and also appropriate based on who the student is and based on what their disability is. So I was hoping for a few responses, but let me share a few comments from the chat. If you have any more positive interactions, I would love for you to share them. Maybe you don’t have any though. That could be possible. So someone also mentioned in the chat “we need more black lawyers in IDEA, ADA FAPE and 504 Rehab Act.” I completely agree with that. I also see a question in the chat as well. I don’t want you to think I’m ignoring you. We will definitely address it towards the end of our presentation, but thank you for that question, for sure. All right, can we go to the next slide, please? Before we close, we’re almost finished. Thank you for hanging in there with me. I definitely wanted us to also address coping with the impact of racism. What can we do for our children? What can we do as parents? What can we do as students, in the schools, faced with this impact of racism? I think it’s essential for us to build a support network, and I’m not just referring to our parents. I’m not just referring to maybe brothers and sisters, but I’m actually referring to some friends as well. I definitely believe friendship is essential to the soul. And I think if more of our students, students I’m specifically referring to students with disabilities who are of color, have that strong support system, it will really, really help them get through whatever the situation may be facing them. I’m not saying that it’s gonna completely block it, but it will help them get through it. I also think it’s important for us as parents to have that support network, especially in today’s time. And, oh, another reason why that may be helpful is because the members of our support network may have gone through a similar experience. They may be able to shed some advice on something that we are currently going through, and probably more importantly, it’s someone that we can just express ourselves to that can relate to what we’re going through with as well. So building that support network is very, very important. Having a positive cultural identity and strong sense of self can also be essential. Implementing self care regularly, and when we talking about self care, that is unique to you, that is unique to your child. I know a lot of times maybe we like riding our bike or going for a run, but whatever is safe and best for you to utilize. I wanna make sure that you’re implementing, or rather, I want to encourage you to implement it. The last point on here is probably my favorite, and that’s being involved in social action. Now, you do not have to. Please don’t think I want you to walk away saying, hey, you have to do these things. You do what’s best for you, but if you are comfortable and if you’re up for it, I do think becoming involved in social action could really, really not only do you good, because you’ll feel good about making an impact, but also it’ll be a healthy way for you to express or exert that energy from dealing with the racism that you’ve been dealing with. So if you are interested in that, I wanna make sure you are documenting those acts of racism. Please do not ignore it or minimize any experience. And I wanna stress to you that many people may encourage you to minimize those experiences, but please don’t. Be bold about it as long as you’re comfortable with that. And I also don’t want you to underestimate the power that you have to make change. You are not alone. I strongly and sincerely believe that it does take a village to raise our children, and the more people that we can get involved that want to have that significant relationship, then I just see a lot of improvement in a lot of the areas that we wanna see change changing as well. If we could go to this last slide real quick, I would love for us to end, once again, on a positive note. So this is a mindfulness activity. I think that it would be very, very good for you all to maybe implement this your child, or if you’re a teacher, implementing it with your students at school as well. I do think it’ll be pretty helpful. So if you don’t mind, everyone, can you please close your eyes and focus on your breaths? So please take some deep breaths. Take some deep belly breaths, and we’re gonna do this for about a minute, for just a minute. And while you’re taking these deep belly breaths, what I’d like for you to do is put your hand on your stomach and feel the rise of your stomach as you inhale and exhale. And once again, let’s do that for about a minute. Feel the rise of your stomach as you inhale, Please continue to take those deep breaths. All right, take that last deep breath. Go ahead and exhale. And what I’d like for you to do is look up and notice something in your environment that makes you feel grateful. And can you please share what you see in the chat? Once again, notice something in your environment, in your environment, sorry, that makes you feel grateful. And please share what you see in the chat. Now I’ll give you all a few moments to type that on in. All right, so I see we’ve got beautiful clouds. They seem so peaceful. Wow, my mother’s notebooks. She has passed, but these represent a little bit of who she was. Wow, I love that. My dog, all right now, that’s good. Live plants. Thank you so much for this feedback. Being able to wake up this morning healthy. Wow, completely agree. All right, so these are the sky. Come on now, flowers. Okay, a picture of me and my husband on our wedding day. I love it, I love it. My son, books. This is beautiful. Thank you so much for sharing this with us here today. I wanted to mention, and we can go to the references and Q and A slide too if we’re ready to move forward, a positive interaction that was mentioned in the chat real quick. And I’ll just read it. It says a positive interaction that I witnessed was a child with a disability who had some behavior issues and often got into it with other kids. It often ended in a fight. However, a staff person used restorative practice and had the two children walk through the issue. And it was amazing to watch how the issue was resolved between the two teen boys using restorative justice. This issue could have easily turned into disciplinary action that would possibly lead to suspension for fighting. Absolutely. Thank you for sharing that. Yes, I’m definitely a believer in restorative practices and restorative justice practices rather. It was something that was implemented at a school that I worked in a few years ago, and I am totally with you. Using alternative methods to discipline such as these can have such more of a positive impact on our children, especially our children of color. So I just wanna say thank you all for attending. I am so appreciative that you all participated with me today as well. Feels good to know that there’s someone out there listening. So thank you very much. And we can definitely move in to the Q&A slide if you’re ready. [Darlika] Thank you all for being great participants. Now we are ready for a question and answer, but before we begin, I would like to also share that we do have a upcoming webinar in the series on April 7th about addressing restorative practices. So, Mr. LaFleur, one of the first questions was one person asked about physical restraints. Yes. Yes, I think it was the difference between physical restraints and mechanical restraints, right? She said, “I have not heard about the use “of mechanical restraints. What is that?” Right, so I’m sure we’re familiar with physical, meaning an actual person manually restraining the child, but also when it comes to mechanical restraints, there’s also devices that can be put in place to restrain a child as well, and I’m referring to muzzles. I’m referring to different material that the district or these teachers would use to restrain a child. I think a lot of that is inhumane. I really hope that these practices will start to be eliminated like yesterday. But yeah, those are the two key differences. So the is just using a device, not an actual person or you manually restraining the person. Okay, thank you. Mr. LaFleur, we also have another question. With many schools now closed to parents due to COVID restrictions, there are no opportunities to witness unfair treatment. How do we overcome this to support our kids? Man, that’s a really good question. And thank you for asking it. I want to make sure I stress that I don’t think there is just one answer to this particular question. I can’t say lack, but the opportunity for parents to come to the schools has clearly lessened due to COVID. There’s no doubt, but I do think if we could continue to have those lines of communication open with, once again, not just the teachers, but other people around campus, that can really help with maybe not necessarily witnessing the unfair treatment, but it can mitigate the unfair treatment, because there’ll be more people that we are talking to. There’s more people involved checking in on the student, talking to the teachers about how the student’s progressing in a particular class. And once again, I’m not just talking about the teachers. So cafeteria workers, if we can establish positive interactions and relationships with them, I think that would be of great assistance. And of course, having those conversations with the school counselor, administrators, people who can probably have a little bit more of a hands on approach with our child, I really think can help with providing the support. Okay, thank you. The next question is, how can I teach my child to stand up for fair treatment in a way that won’t get them in more trouble? That’s a good question. I think that the best way to teach them is to model the behavior, modeling how we want them to stand up for themselves, teaching them the rules, so that they know that they’re not going above the line, or I shouldn’t say above the line, crossing a particular line. Now, this is not a small task. It’s not really an easy task too. I do think it’s a process, but I sincerely believe modeling the behavior that we want our children to utilize is the best way for them to stand up for themselves if they’re not being treated fairly. Okay, thank you. And the last question is, my kid perceived something a teacher said as racist and called it out in class. It was punished for disrupting class. How do I get them to acknowledge that they have a role in this, even if he was disruptive? Well, I really think it starts with having a conversation with the teacher, for sure. I know oftentimes sometimes the teacher may not be as responsive in a sense. Maybe it’s hard to get ahold of the teacher. And in that case, I think it would be wise to get more individuals at the school involved. So maybe a teacher that he does or that the student does have a positive relationship with, talking with maybe the school counselor or an administrator at the school about the situation as well, I think could be very helpful. Good, thank you. If anyone have any more questions, you can place them in a chat, or you can send them anonymously. Okay, next slide. Families, I also would like to ask you all, please, can you answer the last and final poll? And before we leave Mr. LaFleur, first, I would like to thank you all. And also I’d like to inform the families, one thing that Mr. LaFleur said was about building a network, and Exceptional Lives is there to be a great resource for your network. Thank you all.
[Host] Thank you, everybody, for attending. At this time, we are going to stop recording, and we are going to end the webinar, If you have any questions, feel free to reach out to us, and we can get those over to Mr. LaFleur and he can answer those, or we can try to help you answer those. We could be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org. Again, thank you for attending today. And we will see you guys at the next webinar. Yes.
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Issues faced by families of color
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