Auburn School District is working to create a more equitable school system

Black students make up 8.2% of the student body, but represent 18.5% of suspensions and expulsions.

Auburn’s BIPOC students (Black, Indigenous and people of color) are suspended and expelled disproportionately compared to their white counterparts, according to the Office of Superintendent of Public Instruction data. The Auburn School District is working to address the disparities.

Black students in Auburn schools make up 8.2% of the student body, but represent 18.5% of the suspensions and expulsions, according to OSPI. Similarly, students who are two or more races make up 10% of the student body and 14.5% of the suspensions and expulsions.

The only two demographics of students who are underrepresented in suspensions and expulsions are white and Asian students. White students make up 33.1% of the student body and only 23.3% of the suspensions and expulsions. Asian students represent 11.1% of the student body and 4.1% of suspensions and expulsions.

Auburn School District’s director of equity, family engagement and outreach, Isaiah Johnson, said these issues are a product of how the U.S. education system was created in the first place.

“Historically our education system was not established and built for the success of our BIPOC students, and that’s a reality,” Johnson said. “So we have to do a better job of creating systems within our schools and within our district that help support our BIPOC students.”

The data shows BIPOC students are surviving, but not thriving in the school system, Johnson said. The question the district needs to answer is how can it change to allow BIPOC students, and all students, to thrive, Johnson said.

“What systems do we need to create? What policies do we need to change? Some of our policies are not conducive to allowing our BIPOC students to be their cultural self,” Johnson said.

One of the things the district has done is to create an equity statement that guides the work of teachers, administrators and everyone in between, Johnson said.

“Our equity statement is this: Equity is each student having an educational experience in which they are seen and valued for who they are now while developing their full social and academic potential to prepare them for the future they choose,” Johnson said.

Creating good relationships with students and their families is vital to creating a more equitable school environment and lowering the rates of suspensions and expulsions of BIPOC students, Johnson said. Knowing and understanding students on an individual and cultural level allows educators to teach them better, Johnson said.

The majority of Auburn students are non-white, according to OSPI data. Curating classroom materials that represent the diversity of the student body is also crucial to creating a positive learning environment for all students, Johnson said.

Not only is it important for classroom materials to be relevant and representative of different races and ethnicities, but the staff should too, Johnson said. Over 80% of Auburn School District staff is white, compared to 33% of the student body, according to OSPI.

“Our staff is 87% white, and I say that not because that’s a negative. I say that only because we have to be intentional now about also recruiting and hiring staff that look like our students and our demographics,” Johnson said.

The district is working to hire more BIPOC educators and staff so students can relate and identify with adults in their school, Johnson said. It’s important for students to be able to see themselves in their teachers and in other staff in the school, Johnson said.

Another thing the district has done to make schools more inclusive is creating equity teams at each school, Johnson said. The equity team has to focus on their school’s systems, structures and policies, Johnson said.

In order to reduce the number of students who are suspended or expelled, the district is looking into what discipline policies should be changed, Johnson said.

“We have been looking at our discipline practices and modifying them to keep students in school as much as possible,” Johnson said. “One example is reviewing our dress code policies. We also have been looking at all of our policies and procedures with an equity lens and making adjustments throughout the system to better serve each of our students.”

The school district has three Auburn police officers who work in the middle and high schools, Johnson said. The district only refers students to law enforcement as a last resort, but the district does not track instances of referral to law enforcement, Johnson said.