The Winston-Salem/Forsyth County Schools superintendent convened with Black-led educational advocacy group Action4Equity, and other local organizations on Monday to discuss racial disparities in school discipline. 

The press conference was sparked by a report published last week from the U.S. Department of Education’s Office for Civil Rights or OCR. The office found that in Winston-Salem/Forsyth County Schools, Black students were subjected to harsher discipline than white students with similar conduct.

Superintendent Tricia McManus says the compliance review began more than a decade ago but she didn’t find out about it until last week. 

“I'll be honest with you, my team and I, most of us have not been here very long. And we were like, ‘What is this? What is this resolution?’ Because believe it or not, I didn't know about the 2010 initial letter," McManus said.

Still, she says addressing racial disparities in discipline is work the district is committed to doing.

“We would still be moving in the same direction," McManus said. "But the fact that we're moving in the direction that now we are going to be held accountable to it, and we're going to be sending items to OCR, and having them really have this oversight of what we're doing, is a level of accountability that we welcome.”

Among other things, the district will need to review its Code of Character, Conduct, and Support, which was implemented last school year in part to address racial disparities in discipline and reduce out-of-school suspensions. The district will also have to analyze discipline data for evidence of discrimination and implement corrective actions as needed. 

Rev. Paul Robeson Ford spoke on behalf of Action4Equity, about the changes they’d like to see happen. 

“It's time to end suspensions for children in kindergarten, first, second, and third grade except in cases of weapons. It's time to have more community oversight and engagement with these disciplinary practices," Ford said. "And it's time to recognize in our code of conduct, and everywhere else, the role that our School Resource Officers are playing in the disciplinary process.”

McManus also spoke on School Resource Officers and said that their job is to keep children safe from outside entities coming in — not to police the students. 

"What we really need is to have everything we've put in the code with restorative practices, with mentorship, with getting kids connected to things they love at school, we need that stuff to create an environment where the discipline becomes less and less," she said. 

The district’s proposed revisions to the code of conduct are due to the OCR on Sept. 30.

Amy Diaz covers education for WFDD in partnership with Report For America. You can follow her on Twitter at @amydiaze.

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