Editor's Note: The Jefferson City community has been facing the complex topics of diversity and racism for several months, and we've been reporting on those discussions as they happen. For a look at all of the voices who have contributed to this discussion, view additional coverage at newstribune.com/diversity.
Developments continue in the formation of Jefferson City Public Schools' plan to address diversity, equity and inclusion issues discussed by the community last fall.
"We will be giving a more in-depth update at our February meeting next month with regards to our diversity meetings that we had," Superintendent Larry Linthacum told the Board of Education on Monday during their regular monthly meeting.
Linthacum said the wait is to allow for students' input on the question: "What do you see as the school's role with regards to diversity?"
Chief of Learning Brian Shindorf presented new data Monday to the board that showed the district's disciplinary outcomes for students' office referrals seem to be equitable for race and ethnicity, at least among the 11 most significant types of offenses Shindorf looked at and the four largest groups of students — black, white, multi-racial and Hispanic.
Equity in that data meant about the same percentage of students in each group received the same outcomes of out-of-school or in-school suspensions or other consequences.
The state's Department of Elementary and Secondary Education also found after a comprehensive review of the district's discipline data that "the significant discrepancy" in the rate of black students with disabilities who were suspended or expelled for more than 10 days over the past two years "is not the result of inappropriate district policies, procedures or practices."
Shindorf said while DESE's conclusion is good, there was still a discrepancy to begin with that prompted the review, adding the district should ask where it can improve so as not to be questioned again.
Black students make up about 20 percent of the district, but even though there was overall equity in Shindorf's findings with regards to disciplinary outcomes compared to white students, black students represented 43.2 percent of the office referrals he reviewed.
The low totals for some particular offenses present the problems of small sample sizes that can be skewed easily, but offenses with larger sets of numbers point to other continued disparities. For example, of the 1,791 listed times in the past semester students were sent to school offices for "disruptive speech or conduct," black students represented 43.4 percent — again — despite making up only 20 percent of the student body.
In other words, a smaller group of students was referred to offices for a larger number of events, especially compared to their white peers who make up a 62.8 percent majority of the student body.
Some degree of disparity exists in all of the other offenses Shindorf looked at, including that black students were sent to a school office for 58.3 percent of the district's 127 fighting events, 40.1 percent of the 556 physical contact events, 54.5 percent of 44 events categorized as assault and 42.3 percent of disrespect to staff events.
"This is a good first layer of data," Shindorf said but added it's going to take more time to dig deeper and answer questions such as whether there's been equity in the severity of disciplinary consequences students have received — beyond the number of consequences.
He's also determining whether to do such a deep analysis with a semester's worth of data or to wait until he has a full school year's worth.
Shindorf isn't the only person who will be looking at the district's discipline data.
Director of Human Resources Shelby Scarbrough told the board Monday Juanita Simmons will lead diversity training for JCPS staff and other local officials this year. Simmons also will look at the state and Jefferson City's discipline referral data prior to the training and use that equity audit to tailor later sessions.
Simmons is vice president of diversity, equity and inclusion at Northwest Missouri State University in Maryville.
Linthacum said last month that instead of JCPS doing districtwide professional development training on diversity, board member Michael Couty applied for a grant to pay for Simmons to come.
Scarbrough said Simmons will spend three training sessions focused on implicit bias with building administrators, central office administrators, school resource officers, and Jefferson City Parks and Recreation Department staff.
"Her recommendation is that we do a training this semester, one over the summer and one again at the beginning of the school year," Scarbrough said
Couty said the grant he applied for through the state's Department of Public Safety is for a little more than $8,000 for the year, and he can reapply for it.
Scarbrough said Simmons' training would focus on "how our perceptions are shaped, how our perceptions influence organizational climate, how our perceptions form daily practices and how our perceptions result in discretionary decisions that impact others."
Couty said he hopes such training will continue on an ongoing basis.
He added if the school district can reduce the number of students it refers to juvenile court, then it will help change the current fact that Cole County has the third-highest number of juvenile court referrals in the state. Couty is the juvenile court administrator for the 19th Judicial Circuit Court.
While he didn't immediately have any more specific information on the number of referrals, Couty said "we have a disproportionate number of minority kids being referred to juvenile court," and "we get a lot of kids that come to us through the schools."
He added Todd Spalding, the city's director of the Parks, Recreation and Forestry Department, requested his department be part of the training because that department wants to increase its diversity.
Couty said implicit bias can affect information an organization puts on applications and how it goes about interviews with candidates.
"This goes beyond just building administrators carrying (training lessons) out to the buildings. It's going to be from all aspects of administration, working with Mr. Couty and his staff, as well as our SROs, which I think will be very impactful," Scarbrough said.