REI group provides strategies to help parents combat racial discrimination in the classroom



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Last year, Texas Children’s Psychology Section convened The Collaborative on Racial Equity and Inclusion for Black Youth (REI) to share resources, information and support to our patients, colleagues and the broader community around this important mission. One aspect of REI is to provide a set of actions on a specific topic related to combatting racism and promoting equity, justice and respect.

Racism is not just a thing of the past. It continues to permeate our culture. Sadly, racial discrimination occurs in our schools just like in other aspects of society. Research has long established the difference in discipline rates between African American students and their counterparts. African American students are suspended or expelled at higher rates, and they are also more likely to receive a stiffer punishment after receiving an office referral.  In large part, these differences can be attributed to racial bias on the part of school staff who may view African American students’ behavior as more problematic than their peers.

What should your plan of action be if you notice your child is receiving ongoing or excessive punishment at school for behavioral issues? Here are several strategies for parents to keep in their toolbox:

  • Schedule a meeting with school staff to discuss your child’s behavior, behavioral expectations, and ways of remedying any strained relationships. Ask the school team what they can do to help your child. Often times, the school can offer counseling support, a positive mentor or a reinforcement plan to encourage and motivate your child. 

  • Consider talking to your pediatrician or a behavioral health provider. If you alert your provider to behavioral infractions and discipline patterns happening at school, your provider can help advocate for your child.  Your provider can also help rule out psychological conditions such as Attention Deficit Hyperactivity Disorder (ADHD) or depression that might be contributing to your child’s behaviors. If needed, your provider can connect you with community organizations for educational advocacy, which can also help get your child fair treatment at school. 

  • Submit formal requests for services to the school. If your child has a health condition that is contributing to behaviors, he or she has the right to accommodations in schools under Section 504 of the Rehabilitation Act of 1973. These accommodations will allow your child to have individualized supports to help with their health concern within the regular education classroom. If additional supports for behavior are required, consider requesting a Behavior Intervention Plan from the school system. This is a process that elicits the help of a behavior specialist. A behavior specialist will assess the root cause of the behavioral difficulties and help the teaching team implement a plan to help support your child on campus. To ensure that your requests are responded to in a timely manner, it is best if you put the request in writing (via a dated email or letter) and get copies of this letter to several key individuals on campus, i.e. your child’s principal, counselor, and teacher.

  • Find ways to connect your child with groups, clubs or sports activities at school. Often kids who have received a pattern of punishment do not feel connected or as though they belong to their school because of the treatment they have received. This can create a negative cycle where kids act out because they are frustrated with the negative treatment on campus. By becoming more involved in the school community in fun ways, children will continue to maintain self esteem and motivation for learning, which can help maintain positive behavior. 

Racial bias and discrimination can happen anywhere. If you feel your African-American child is receiving overly harsh treatment on campus, please take action. Consider the strategies listed here, and know that your Texas Children’s pediatrician or Behavioral Health Provider are here to help you.