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Discussing Equity, Restorative Practices and Policing in Columbia Public Schools

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The local group Race Matters, Friends is calling for the resignation of Columbia Public Schools’ chief equity officer Carla London.

The group officially made the call last week in a letter saying, “The district has been unable to provide RMF with evidence that Ms. London’s equity training program is meaningfully addressing the racial disparities in out-of-school suspensions, harassment, bullying and attendance.”

Nobody from the school district has officially responded to the call for London’s resignation, and the issue was not addressed at Monday’s school board meeting.

Race Matters, Friends began looking into the district’s practices after a student at Smithton Middle School was wrongfully arrested for being involved in a fight. She was held for 24 hours in a juvenile detention center, and her mother filed a human rights complaint.

The group’s president, Traci Wilson-Kleekamp, said she met with the arresting police officer, his boss and Smithton Middle School’s principal. She said, “what we found out is that no restorative effort had been made with these kids at all.”

Wilson-Kleekamp said the schools have “equity teams,” which in theory would address the race-related bullying this girl had been a victim of. In practice, however, she said the teams might only meet once or twice a year.

“So, if Carla London is supposed to oversee the analysis of their data so that they have performative outcomes, and she is supposed to oversee what the training and whether they're training is effective, and they have no data to show how they're analyzing and maintaining these programs for the benefit of students, then she shouldn't have that job,” Wilson-Kleekamp said.

The other issue Wilson-Kleekamp said she is concerned about is the relationship between the school district and the police. She said that when the school district has a problem, they just call the police to come make arrests.

“These two institutions don't have a practice or a protocol,” said Wilson-Kleekamp. “It is intellectually and spiritually lazy what they are doing.”

Wilson Kleekamp says Race Matters, Friends has advocated to the police department that they should collaboratively develop a restorative practice with the school district to prevent them from arresting kids in school.

Carla London, however, said she believes the school district is making substantial progress on promoting equity and restorative practices.

“When you’re talking about changing mindsets and having people really reflect on their socialization, that’s deep work,” London said.

London said over the last seven years the school district has implemented mandatory training programs for faculty, a new indicator regarding relationships, and a behavior matrix including restorative practices.

London said she did not want to answer any questions about the call for her resignation. While it wasn’t addressed directly at last night’s school board meeting, Superintendent Peter Stiepleman did praise the equity work being done in the district.  

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