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    Is It Time to Rethink Zero Tolerance Policies in Schools?

    Feb 17 2022

    Inequities within school policies, practices, and procedures can have negative effects on students' mental health and overall life path. On today's episode, our experts talk about Zero Tolerance Policies, which disproportionately affect Black and Brown students and those with mental health conditions. So, is it time for us to come up with a better solution? Listen today as Michael K Fauntroy, Ph.D., Associate Professor & Founding Director of the Race, Politics, and Policy Center at George Mason University and Regina James, M.D., Chief of the Division of Diversity & Health Equity and Deputy Medical Director of APA discuss this topic.

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    Transcript of Audio

    Rawle Andrews Jr: Hello, and welcome to Mentally Healthy Nation, a special live episode regarding health equity around politics and school performance. I am your host, Rawle Andrews Jr, the executive director of the American Psychiatric Association Foundation. We are joined today by two esteemed guests. The first is my teammate and colleague here at the APA, Dr. Regina James M.D., as well as Dr. Michael Fauntroy. We will introduce them momentarily, but before we do, let me begin by saying, if you don't remember anything else you see or hear from today's podcast, it shouldn't hurt to be a child. It shouldn't hurt to be a child.

    Rawle Andrews Jr: In the 1969 decision of the United States Supreme court, Tinker versus Des Moines, it was declared in a landmark decision, that students do not check their rights at the schoolhouse gates. Notwithstanding the 1969 landmark decision of Tinker versus Des Moines, we are seeing our schools, our colleges, and our universities grapple and struggle with the ways in which they are impacted directly or indirectly, the mental health and wellbeing of our children, when they don't acknowledge or address this policies, the practices and procedures that are harming our children. We are all aware or should be aware of so-called zero-tolerance policies.

    Rawle Andrews Jr: These zero-tolerance policies have led to an alarming rate of students who are suspended or removed from school altogether, when help from a mental health professional was needed instead of intervention by a school resource officer. An alarming 70% of law enforcement referrals and arrests made in America's schools are for the African American Black and Hispanic Latino students. 70%. And the majority of our schools, despite the great and growing awareness of mental health and mental health services and supports, seem to be ill-equipped to understand how racial traumas are besieging our students, even though because they spend the most time with our students during the school day, they're in the best position to get equipped, to help provide services and supports to promote the wellbeing and the future advancement of our students. So during today's podcast, we'll listen to a candid conversation on one, how racial trauma might show up in our schools.

    Rawle Andrews Jr: Two, how our communities can begin to address racial trauma, and three, what can we do to offer our children and their family caregivers some of the services and supports they deserve? Without any further ado, let me introduce again my teammate, Dr. Regina James M.D. She is the Deputy Medical Director of the APA, but she's also the Chief of the Division of Diversity and Health Equity. Among other roles that Regina has enjoyed over a 25 year career, include being a senior vice president 2M Clinical, some work that she did with the National Institute of Minority Mental Health and Health Disparities at a leadership level. Her work as director of office of health equity in the Eunice Kennedy Shriver Institute, as well as her work on child and adolescent psychiatry issues, where she has expertise in the DSM-5. So Dr. James will be our host.

    Rawle Andrews Jr: Regina, thank you so much for giving up your time to be the moderator for today's program, and then you're going to be joined by another good friend of APA and the APA Foundation, Dr. Michael Fauntroy, PhD, who's the associate professor of policy and government and the Founding Director of Race, Politics and Policy Center at the George Mason University in Virginia. This is his second stint at George Mason. He spent eight years on faculty at Howard university as the acting director of the Ron Walter's Leadership and Public Policy Center, before he had his own homecoming and came back to George Mason during 2021. He's the author of two books. Republicans and The Black Vote, as well as the Forward Magazine Book of the Year about home rule and house rule in the district of Columbia. You name a show or a publication in the public square, whether it's CNN, Huffington Post, New York Times, Chicago Defender, et cetera, Dr. Fauntroy has been there and he is our special guest today, for what I know will be a courageous and a very timely conversation. Thank you very much to both of you.

    Dr. Michael Fauntroy: Thank you.

    Dr. Regina James: Thank you, my colleague Mr. Andrews, and thank you really for bringing both of us together during this, not only interesting time, but the month that we happen to have this conversation in. Black history month, which I think is very timely, Dr Fauntroy.

    Dr. Michael Fauntroy: You can go with Michael.

    Dr. Regina James: Okay, Michael and Regina. So, it should not hurt to be a child. Thinking about that in the school context. I just want to just share a couple of words to sort of serve as a platform for our discussion. When I thought about it should not hurt to be a child, I thought about how people perceive misbehaviors. When kids are in school, taking misbehavior as something way out of the norm, as opposed to something that is actually a part of normal development. Remember your two year old, the terrible twos and the no, no, no. Some may look at that as misbehavior, but it is actually a part of normal development. Or your adolescent, when they're learning to be more independent and going through a lot of social and physical changes, and they like to challenge you on certain things.

    Dr. Regina James: That's not necessarily misbehaving, that's part of normal development. But what happens when these perceptions of normal development go awry? And I think that really lays the foundation as we think about our kids in school and how they're perceived and what happens to them when they quote unquote misbehave, and what trajectory that sort of sends them down in terms of their life trajectory. I'm wondering if you maybe could touch upon, and I know my colleague, Mr. Andrews sort of introduced a topic of the zero-tolerance policy, because I think that really undergirds a lot of what we're going to really get deeper into later on.

    Dr. Michael Fauntroy: Well first, thank you for inviting me. I'm really happy to be a part of this conversation. I am bringing to this conversation, a background in public policy. And also as a parent, you were talking about the terrible twos earlier. My wife and I have 14 year old twins, and I wonder sometimes if it's the terrible twelves or the terrible 13, but one of the things that I've learned, and I know you know this through your medical training and your observations over time, is that human development is remarkably consistent. If you're talking about a two year old in the United States or a two year old in Africa or two year old in Australia, there are a lot of similarities that their behavior will present. To your point, it's really all about human development, and so for me, when I think about zero-tolerance policies, they strike me as a bit of an overreaction to what we understand to be normal human development. We understand that children need guard rails.

    Dr. Michael Fauntroy: Children need to know how to fail and how to succeed, but the adults around those kids also have to have an understanding of normal human development and a recognition of the fundamental humanity of children. So our friend Rawle Andrews in his introduction noted that 70% of arrests made of kids in schools, is of black and brown kids. That is an obscene number in my view, and in many respects reflects a lack of understanding of the fundamental humanity of children and the natural human development. So we understand that these zero tolerance policies in schools sort of follow the zero tolerance policies that we saw at the national public policy level, in terms of getting tough on crime in the late eighties and the early nineties and three strikes and some of these other kinds of things where public policy makers concluded that we can just sort of incarcerate our way out of whatever problems we think are in our communities.

    Dr. Michael Fauntroy: That of course has been proven false, but it makes some people feel comfortable that we're being tough on these incorrigible kids, but as you know, the boundaries that exist for some kids in the normal human development, don't exist for others, and for me, that is at the crux of what is going on here. How do we create a public policy regime that allows ALL kids and ALL people to go as far as their ambition and ability will take them? And when we have these zero tolerance policies that take a hammer to a net and certain kinds of things, we get in the way of that ambition and push down the ceiling on that ability.

    Dr. Regina James: Exactly. Michael, what I find really fascinating is really sort of the history or the trajectory of how we've handled behavior or misbehaviors in the schools. I know that in my time, well, I won't say when that was, corporal punishment was not off the table. Corporal punishment has been around since the late 18 hundreds, and has moved on until the 1950s, and that was really how they handled behaviors in school, and then they went toward the exclusionary discipline process, right? So if you're misbehaving in school, then you will be expelled from the class or expelled from the school. So that's around the 1960s. And then they moved to, as you have pointed out and Rawle have pointed out as well, more on that zero tolerance.

    Dr. Regina James: Now, what I find fascinating about the zero tolerance piece is, and correct me if I'm wrong as a policy expert, it seemed to have started out focused on guns, and then it morphed into zero tolerance as it relates to drug and alcohol and violence, and then it morphed into zero tolerance as it related to behaviors, and that's when we started to see the difference, in terms of how kids were disciplined and how the zero tolerance policy was implemented, and we started to see that difference between black and brown kids and other kids. That's the interesting part to me. How we have basically morphed the zero tolerance policy into something that is, I guess more convenient for some, without taking into consideration child development.

    Dr. Michael Fauntroy: So it's a pendulum, right? So you were talking about corporal punishment. I was in a conversation just yesterday with a colleague of mine who was talking about the ruler on the knuckles. What struck me about that conversation was he remembered it so vividly to this day. And as you move the pendulum to exclusionary punishment, let's put you in detention, you have lunch by yourself, that kind of thing, and then to this current zero tolerance regime. The one consistent thing in all of these different circumstances is, the only one who's hurt is the child.

    Dr. Regina James: Exactly.

    Dr. Michael Fauntroy: The only one, and it is done in some respects out of convenience. Now, we should also note that there is a stark difference in some ways between what goes or on in public schools, versus what may go on in private or independent or parochial schools. I'm using this a bit advisedly, there seems to be more flexibility in certain private and independent schools, than there are in public schools, and my fear is that we are losing or have lost an understanding of the fundamental purpose of school, which is to educate kids. Now we understand that you can't have kids being disruptive in classes, but to Rawle's earlier point about resources and resource personnel in schools, the budget cuts that have affected so many school systems around the country has taken out of the building some of those people who could be useful to provide support for some of those kids that may have just had a tough weekend and running the right frame of mind on Monday or Tuesday. Or kids that came to school hungry, or for whatever reason, weren't their best selves.

    Dr. Michael Fauntroy: One of my sort of fundamental questions here is, as a school system, what kind of investments do you think are necessary to get the most success for your kids? You hear legislators and politicians all around the country talking about public-private partnerships and investing money to help make the community more attractive, but you never hear them, or rarely hear them talking about that in the context of schools, school systems. What is it that we can do to make our school system the best in this region, so that everybody wants to be here and do business here and live and spend money here? As I see it, these zero tolerance policies and this pendulum that I referred to earlier, actually are counterproductive. They don't help the child. In fact, they hurt the child, and could potentially have long-term implications down the line. If this child happens to be unlucky enough to be in a school system that is less accommodating and less willing to accept certain behaviors as part of human development, and rather see them as threatening and the kinds of things that need to be punished, rather than supported.

    Dr. Regina James: Right, and research does support exactly what you said. In terms of expelling these kids from school, the harsh punishments down the line, iIntroducing them to the juvenile justice system early, down the line has negative consequences. It actually is counterproductive to what one is hoping to do, which I'm assuming is keeping the safe school and doing what's best for the child. Ultimately it is not what's best for the child and research studies support that, that does not happen ultimately at the end of the day. Another thing-

    Dr. Michael Fauntroy: Can I jump in on that quickly?

    Dr. Regina James: Oh, sure.

    Dr. Michael Fauntroy: It's bad for the child, it's terrible for the child, we understand that, but we have to always remember that politics results in policies that impact people. So when you have politicians who are more focused on their own re-election, than they are in creating public policy that positively impacts the lives of people in their communities, they're not prepared in many ways to make the nuanced arguments for the need for greater investments in certain kinds of educational endeavors.

    Dr. Michael Fauntroy: And as a result, we end up with a public policy regime that punishes children and the people in those communities, the business owners in particular are similarly hurt. In many ways, don't understand or recognize that all this means is that you're going to have fewer future employees from which to choose. And this is one of the fundamental defects in the way we do education, in the way we do rehabilitation for those people who need it, who are incarcerated, who are returning citizens, for example. We don't do a good enough job of that, in part because the politicians are more interested in re-election and putting together public policies that will support their re-election, than they are putting together public policies that will support people.

    Dr. Regina James: And I think about that issue about the focus on the public policy piece, and you brought up an important point. It depends on the argument that you make to policy makers in terms of, does it stick? So you mentioned the part about future employment. You're talking about the bottom line, the dollar, future employment. Does that resonate with the public policy makers, versus it's just morally and ethically the right thing to do for the child. That may or may not stick.

    Dr. Michael Fauntroy: Yeah, so the moral and ethically right thing as you and I probably agree this is, takes a backseat to political expediency, quite frankly. And it's easier to scare people in support of your re-election, than it is to sort of magnetize people with public policy. The reality is, I won't get anybody in trouble here, but I just want to say

    Dr. Regina James: No one's on the line.

    Dr. Michael Fauntroy: To the American Psychiatric Association Foundation. I think we have a militantly ignorant public electorate, who is driven by fear rather than hope, and as a consequence, it's easier to tap into fear than it is to tap into hope, which is why so many politicians try to tap into voters on things that make them fearful, rather than things that make them hopeful.

    Dr. Michael Fauntroy: And so our overarching political policy ecosystem right now is really problematic because some people don't see the connect between a well educated, mentally healthy and engaged universe of students, and how that will result in a better educated, more talented, more flexible, and greater employment pool for business owners in the out years. It's painful for me because there are so many young people, and I see this all the time on college campuses. There're tons of talented young people on college campuses, but there are also tons of talented people who are not on college campuses, and that's a whole other conversation in part about how we finance our education system, but there's a lot of talent out there, that's not being fully nurtured, in part because of public policy decisions, including the zero tolerance ones that we've been talking about these last few minutes.

    Dr. Regina James: Now another thing I think that really bothers me is, we started off talking about the interpretation of behavior of children. Is it misbehaving? Is it really out of the bell curve? Is it out of the norm? And how do you deal with behaviors in school? Et cetera. Then I also think about the children, under eighteens, about one in six kids who have an underlying mental health issue, whether it's anxiety or depression or something like that, and they haven't been diagnosed. And so what they exhibit on the outside, one may interpret as misbehavior, when in fact they have an underlying medical illness that can be diagnosed and treated, and that child could live a full and healthy life. And so thinking about the many kids who do have an underlying mental illness and have not been made aware of it, whether they're underinsured or uninsured, just haven't been diagnosed or whatever, in a school system demonstrating these behaviors and somehow get funneled into, through these school referrals, the juvenile justice system.

    Dr. Michael Fauntroy: So you just hit on something that is a significant hole in American education. So if one in six, and I wouldn't be surprised if the number was larger, if one in six have some underlying in condition that's not seen and not heard, if I could use that phraseology. If it's dyslexia, which makes academic performance more difficult. If it's anxiety, if it's ADHD, if it's a variety of, as you rightly pointed out, treatable conditions, but school systems aren't trained to identify those conditions, and certainly don't want to expend the resources necessary to provide that support, then that child is more likely to be engaged in the system, in a way that is problematic.

    Dr. Michael Fauntroy: So being a parent sort of reintroduces you to your younger self, and as my wife and I are going through this journey with our own kids, you see kids in their schools and talk to parents and hear their stories, and I reflect on my own experiences growing up in Washington, DC. Attending DC public schools, from kindergarten through 12th grade, and thinking about so many kids that I grew up, particularly black boys, who as the years went on, became more engaged in the criminal justice system. And then as a parent, looking back on that, I'm wondering, so and so, that kid was pretty smart. I wonder if there had been some underlying condition that had not been identified, that had it been identified, perhaps could have changed the trajectory of this kid's life.

    Dr. Michael Fauntroy: And so we had have all sorts of things that are not being done, and then we are effectively penalizing the child for things that adults didn't do, who in many cases had the capacity to do and didn't. And in some cases had indifference to the student's needs and didn't take the extra step to make it happen. We know that from a public policy perspective, states around the country look at reading and test scores in third and fourth grade to try to project how many prison beds they're going to need down the line, which is frightening in many ways to think about, but from a public policy perspective, if those dollars had been rerouted to early childhood education, for example, in identifying kids who need a little extra support, perhaps you wouldn't need that money for prisons and could use that money for more community investment, to help create young people that can be better balanced and more attractive as future employees for businesses in their own communities.

    Dr. Regina James: And my other question is, today, why do you think there are more police officers in... Schools are more willing to invest in police officers in the school, than psychologists or any other mental health person in the school?

    Dr. Michael Fauntroy: Well that gets back to a point I was making earlier. So voters, citizens have not yet caught up to the notion that a school is about more than just the teachers in the classroom, it's all the adults in the building. And what kind of message do you want to send to communities? So 30 years ago a lot of public schools in this city had a handful of adults on the payroll, who would walk the halls and sort of mentor kids indirectly or informally and just be there, and so belts got tightened. Those folks got moved out of those jobs, and we saw an increase in ineffectual or behaviors that we don't want to see. So rather than respond by putting those people back in this schools, we instead decide that the answer actually is police in the schools. I think about the message that sends to a first grader or second grader. No second grader, no first grader anywhere in the country is developed enough to understand any of the nuance around that.

    Dr. Michael Fauntroy: And so there're teachers and police officers, and that's it. Now, some schools you got coaches, and this is where athletics and arts and those sorts of things become so fundamental, and my view to 360 degree education that all of our kids deserve, but the placing of police officers in these spaces, in my view, presents a false sense of security for the kids, but more importantly for the parents, because all parents want safe spaces for the kids. I want that, the parents who are watching us right now want that, but in some respects, having police in the building may provide a false sense of that.

    Dr. Regina James: Right, and as I think about the differential rates of suspension. More black and brown kids are suspended at higher rates. The teachers or whoever the school officials are, who are sort of making this evaluation on this misbehavior and basically making recommendations to the juvenile justice system, et cetera. One of the pieces I often think about, and I think research supports as well, is what's known as adultification bias, which is essentially for black boys, if they misbehave, it was intentional. They knew what they were doing. It has nothing to do with sort of their developmental stage and that's not taken into consideration, it's more intentional. They know what they were doing. Same with black girls. They put the values or the criteria of being an adult on a younger person, and so therefore it skews their view about whether this behavior is appropriate or not. Tends to be not appropriate, hence referrals to juvenile justice system.

    Dr. Michael Fauntroy: Yeah. And by the way, if I could just hang one more part to that, there's all kind of research that shows that as it pertains to black boys, white jurors think that black boys are older than they actually are. And so, that's something that resonates with me with a 14 year old son, who is going through a growth spurt right now, and he's got a little bit of a mustache and again, parenting introduces you to your younger self. I'm now seeing it through the eyes of my parents who probably worried about me just going out to the store, to play basketball or just to hang out.

    Dr. Michael Fauntroy: What happens if a police officer comes across my son and his boys and assumes that they're older than they actually are, or treats them as if they're older than they actually are? Doesn't really understand the development side. I am deeply concerned about that. And by the way, that misunderstanding of the age of a black child, a black boy in particular, makes it easier for people to accept charging children as adults for certain kinds of crimes. We understand that the mens rea is about 25 when the brain fully forms, so why are we holding 15 and 16 year old, why are we charging them as adults, when they are long way from fully developing their brains to make the kinds of cognitive decisions that we would expect for an adult to make? As you know, some adults get it wrong, but we're holding kids to standards that they're not sort of developmentally able to make.

    Dr. Regina James: That's not fair, and I resonate with you. I too have two children. My son, who's now 23, went through all of what you're going through now. He is, as I always say, he's tall, and so always concerned about how people perceived him. Always worried about when he went out and he's 23 now, but the world has this adultification bias. They've always seen him as older, and anything that he would do in school would be seen as more intentional. It was very difficult for me to always have these conversations with that it's not the same.

    Dr. Michael Fauntroy: Yeah, so you know that there's this thing called the talk and there is these conversations that we have to have with our kids around these kinds of things, and we try not to put too much on our kids, when our kids were 12. I was part of a group of black dads who took our black sons to meet with a black police officer, to give them some tips on how to handle being pulled over by police.

    Dr. Michael Fauntroy: Show your hands, turn on all the lights in the car and such. And we did it because we understood that, that's the world we live in, and while it's entirely too heavy for a 12 year old in my view to have to do this, we also are trying to protect our kids with this adultification of children, of kids, and as we think about how this sort of resonates in public policy, does it impact public policy or does public policy impact it? More often than not, these things tend to be cyclical.

    Dr. Michael Fauntroy: I am deeply concerned about this adultification and how we react or in some respects, overreact to it. Kids are kids. Some kids have problems, I'm not sitting here trying to suggest to you that they don't, and I'm not sitting here trying to suggest to you that some of these problems aren't deadly serious, but all kids deserve leeway to again, go as far as their ambition and ability will take them, and when we overreact with zero tolerance policies, we hold down some of their ceiling on what they can do going forward.

    Dr. Regina James: Absolutely agree, and some even go so far as to say, not only do we have an issue with school to prison, but really cradle to prison pipeline.

    Dr. Michael Fauntroy: Yeah. My wife and I are fortunate. We've been able to provide certain opportunities and experiences to our kids, and we're proud of that, and we also count our blessings in that regard, but the success of a child shouldn't be tied to resources in the way that it is. And so for me as we assess the success or failure of a society, I think we have to assess it in some respects on how it provides for its children. What opportunities, what resources is it willing to commit to make sure that kids have what they need to go as far as they can go? When you look at parts of our country that are over-policed and undereducated and under-resourced, you're right. It's not just school to prison, it's actually cradle to grave.

    Dr. Michael Fauntroy: Because if you are unfortunately caught up in the system, so to speak and get out on the other side, what is there for you? 600,000 people leave state and federal prisons every year, and public policies have been created to make it very difficult for them to successfully re-enter society and stay out. And so food insecurity, fewer job opportunities, housing insecurity, mental health, a lack of mental health counseling and access to whatever is necessary in those spaces, helps to create this vicious cycle that we're all too familiar with, and if you're coming out at age 35, having been in half your life, in some cases, what does that mean for you for the next 10, 20, 30, 40 years, if you're fortunate enough to live that long? A 10, 15 year sentence at the age of 17 or 18 could essentially be a life sentence, because it effectively moves your life off of a trajectory of relative success and moves it into one of increasing likelihood of real problems going forward.

    Dr. Regina James: Right, and my other issue is this. We're continuing, but we have been dealing with the pandemic, with COVID 19 for the last three years, essentially, and we all know that it has disproportionately impacted communities of color. We also know that with the pandemic, a lot of kids have been schooling from home, so this referral process of the school making the referrals to juvenile justice system has gone down, because no one's in school, no one's making the referrals.

    Dr. Regina James: My concern is now that kids are going back to school, we know that we've all been dealing with more sort of emotional lability, whether we're more anxious, more depressed, just it's been a very stressful time. And then as you mentioned, adding on issues around food insecurity, people may have job insecurity, loss of jobs, loss of family, so you have a whole host of additional stressors, in addition to the stressors that were there before the pandemic. My concern is, as these kids return back to school, how is the school system going to handle this? Are they going to be aware than they were before, but are they going to be aware, cognizant and sensitive to the fact that there's even more issues that the kids are dealing with? And so the behaviors that they may see, the underlying issue is not, they're just misbehaving, but there's a lot that we're all dealing with.

    Dr. Michael Fauntroy: So I'm not optimistic about that. I think there're going to be dissertations written over the next 10 years about the impact of the pandemic on child development. I am deeply concerned with what I'm seeing with young people. And by the way, even at the university level. If you're a 20 year old sophomore, you missed out on the end of your senior year in high school and all of the sort of rites of passage that come with that. You missed out on many of the rites of passage that come with your freshman year in college. You had school from home your freshman year. I am deeply worried that the additional stress and the reduced student performance, because online teaching is not as affect as in-person teaching. There have been many kids and I'm sure you've seen the studies on this, who have literally tapped out of school on screen.

    Dr. Michael Fauntroy: It's not sufficiently engaging, and as you know, young people need to be engaged, particularly those who have, and we talked about this earlier, some of these underlying conditions, be it dyslexia or dysgraphia or ADHD or anxiety. Many kids in that group really do respond better to hands-on, in-person learning.

    Dr. Michael Fauntroy: So they now come back to school having missed out on a year plus of in-person, hands on learning, which means that they may well be in the seventh or eighth grade, but they've actually done the learning of somebody who is in the sixth or seventh grade or fifth grade, and what does that mean as we go forward for their own educational development and ability to be competitive in the workforce, when they graduate high school, or when they graduate college?

    Dr. Michael Fauntroy: I'm worried, and my fear is that we're going to see dropout rates over the course of the next few years explode, because we have at least a two year period in which there have been numerous schools that haven't been able to open. And even as we seem to be getting closer to the end of the omicron variant, there's still schools that are having to shut down and close and the impact that has on family calendars and school shuts down on Wednesday and what does a parent do when they have to go to work? I have to confess to being deeply worried about that right now.

    Dr. Regina James: So what about maybe on an upswing, the concept of restorative justice in schools and how we can deal with engaging families, particularly families of color in the educational community, more intentionally engaging the students. What are your thoughts on the sort of justice and schools?

    Dr. Michael Fauntroy: So I think every public school in America, in addition to some of the resource people, should have sort of full time staff dedicated to events management, who can coordinate and organize events that build community among the parents in those schools. We see some of that with school athletics. I'm a big believer in school athletics. I think it helps to build community among the students and among their families. I think that's really important, but the most cohesive and successful school communities are also those that are most engaged in some kind of community building activities. Now we get that everybody can't do everything, but we need more of that. Schools are a reflection of the communities in which they are situated, and cohesive communities tend to have cohesive schools, and I think the idea of community is really important to me, from a public policy standpoint. I just think that well-organized communities are best able to get out of the political process what they need to be their best selves.

    Dr. Regina James: And I'm thinking about the kids, when they do go back after dealing with all of these stressors, and as you say, from an academic standpoint, they may not be where they were and as a matter of fact, they may have fallen behind. Behaviors are a little more escalated than before. What can we do to address some of these issues? The underlying problems, even the underlying biases that were there before. As we talked throughout today, the black and brown kids are being disproportionately impacted by all of this.

    Dr. Regina James: How do you begin to have those discussions or have teachers feel comfortable with discussions about race, racism, the impact and biases and how that can impact the school, the school environment, child development. All of that in light of, with a backdrop of, some of the fallout that's coming around not having certain books in the school and not necessarily discussing race and racism in schools. So you kind of have these two things coming together at the same time, when it seems like this issue is needed most to have these discussions.

    Dr. Michael Fauntroy: Yeah, so that gets to a much broader issue about sort of civic education in America. So everybody who's watching us right now, likely has heard of the concept critical race theory. It is a theory that has been around, in American legal education for decades. And it is one that has been badly misused for political purposes, and is now being used as cover to push back against even the sort of watered down black history month programs that we see at schools around the country. Can't talk about slavery, can't talk about segregation. That's critical race theory. That's bad.

    Dr. Michael Fauntroy: So I'm a big believer in the power of information and the power hour of education. That's more difficult in an environment in which some people are purposely misinforming and purposely miseducating, but I think that's where it starts. Voices who know better have to speak up and engage in this public dialogue, in this public discourse, which I believe has been badly corroded over the years in which there are some people who actually believe that two plus two is five in many respects, because they've been so badly misinformed about what's going on in the world. And so, with regard to the issue of race and racism, I really do think that we have to be vigilant on this, because there are some people that want to redefine race and racism, with black and brown people being those who are committing the race and racism against others. I would believe that it starts with sort of community based information and education and community dialogue around these kinds of things. Now that's hard to do. People are busy and have so much going on. I'm not naive to that, but I don't see a better way.

    Dr. Regina James: Yeah, I think about that as when I think about maybe some ways to improve this sort of, whether you say to prison pipeline or cradle to prison pipeline is really about awareness, knowledge, having some sort of curriculum involved in the school, to really openly discuss and talk about these issues. Some sort of teacher training, so that they could feel more comfortable and empowered and knowledgeable to talk about and to implement some of these sort of interactive opportunities with parents and engaging in community more. Things of that nature.

    Dr. Michael Fauntroy: But Regina...

    Dr. Regina James: I'm just

    Dr. Michael Fauntroy: I'm with you on that, but we probably agree that in most parts of the country, people don't really care about that in the way that you and I probably want to see it. You can do all the teacher and administrative training you want, but if it's not in them to care, it's not going to result in the kinds of things that you and I probably want to see. Now, I know for a fact that there are plenty of people that do care. There are plenty of people in schools who see young people with potential, that need nurturing environments. All kids need nurturing environments, but I also think that many teachers sort of feel under siege right now.

    Dr. Michael Fauntroy: I would like to see a circumstance in which it's not on the teachers, as much as there may be other people in the buildings that can help lead that part of it and leave the teaching to the teachers, because my view is, many ways the teachers are just sort of overrun and I would like to relieve some of that pressure they feel. I know a lot of K through 12 teachers and depending on where they are in the country, it's a rough go right now for them.

    Dr. Regina James: And I agree. I was just thinking teachers because it seems like they're the ones who are making these referrals around misbehaviors and what's going on in the classroom.

    Dr. Michael Fauntroy: They may be making the initial referral, but for it to get out of the school, it's got to go through a principal somewhere. I hear you, it's a real dilemma. My only hesitancy is that we're requiring teachers to do so much now. And this gets back to something you mentioned earlier, that we need more resources in the building. More people in the building who can help address some of these concerns, so these referrals don't need to be made, or that there are some alternatives that can be created so that these referrals do not need to be made.

    Dr. Regina James: And it's interesting. We've made the switch from the corporal punishment that was around for a while to exclusionary discipline. We've made the switch from the various formats of what zero tolerance is. Research supports that zero tolerance does not work. When are we going to try a new approach?

    Dr. Michael Fauntroy: When we get leadership in place that's willing to say publicly that zero tolerance doesn't work. And when those educational leaders have the support of the various county and city councils and state legislatures around the country, because those are the ones who are pushing to have these zero tolerance policies in the first place. And when communities are willing to accept that very truth that you just mentioned. It's so much easier to go zero tolerance. People want black and white, on and off solutions, when you and I both know that child rearing whether it's in terms of mental health, academics, arts, athletics, and that gumbo that is education. There's a lot of gray space in between those two, and that's where the gumbo is made and unfortunately, we're not at a place right now where our public discourse is tolerant of nuance and context. We want easy solutions that do not exist, but we will take the easiest solutions because they make us feel good.

    Dr. Regina James: Well, I'm trying to close on a high note.

    Dr. Michael Fauntroy: I was just about to say, and on that high note. I get it. Let me try this. I never cease to be amazed by the resiliency of kids. You give a kid some love and you give a kid some opportunity and some encouragement and some guard rails, so that they can make mistakes but not run off the road and be out of the game, you'd be surprised what they can do. And so, my optimism lies in my belief in kids, and that if we can just get the resources at a level that meets the kids' needs, we're going to be in a much better place.

    Dr. Regina James: And get more mental health people in the schools and more police out of the schools and really hoping that the educational system, because it is one of the places that kids who have been health issues receive counseling.

    Dr. Michael Fauntroy: And it's one of the areas in which that is the most mysterious to parents and people who aren't engaged in education on a daily basis. We tend to recoil from things that we don't understand, but I think people don't understand why it is that you have social workers in schools, but it's better to have social workers and psychiatrists and psychologists in schools, for young people while they're young, than it is to have to deal with that when they're older and it's more costly.

    Dr. Regina James: And making it more of a normative issue and not an abnormal issue, to be able to engage and have discussions and talk to mental health professionals, so I agree. Well, Dr. Fauntroy, it has truly been a pleasure speaking with you this afternoon. I've learned a lot, and I hope that those who are listening have also learned a lot from this discussion. I am still hopeful. I'm still hopeful about our kids, about the future. It really will be interesting to see, now that we are on the tail end, I hope of the pandemic and kids get back into school, be interesting to see how that referral goes. I'm hopeful that we will have some strategy or some approach, that will help us diminish that referral and really focus on a child being a child.

    Dr. Michael Fauntroy: Agreed, and thank you. I've enjoyed this conversation.

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