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Published on March 27, 2024
Knox County School District Tackles Racial and Income Disparities in Student DisciplineSource: Unsplash/ Sam Balye

The Knox County School District has come under scrutiny following a recent report that showed disparities in the rate at which students of different races and incomes are disciplined, with Black and low-income students facing suspensions more frequently than their peers. The extensive data, unveiled to the public and the Knox County Board of Education, has spurred discussions around potential solutions to these glaring inequities.

In light of these findings, district officials have pledged to rigorously work to close the racial and economic gaps in student punishment. "We have a lot of work to do across the district," Assistant Superintendent of Strategy Kori Lautner said in a statement obtained by Knox News. "We're going to continue to do this work in a meaningful manner to meet goals at the district level, at the school level and at the student level."

Discipline data from the 2021 to 2023 school years indicated that Black students were subjected to disciplinary actions at more than twice the rate of other races, according to a risk ratio chart released in the report. Superintendent Jon Rysywek, while addressing these disparities, emphasized the importance of addressing disciplinary practices, a focus he has maintained since his tenure as principal at Fulton High School, as detailed in a report by WBIR.

Seeking to overturn the punitive trend, Knox County Schools are implementing restorative practices in select schools. Janice Cook, KCS Director of School Culture, emphasized the necessity to not only quickly reduce the disproportionate suspension rates but also to strengthen student-staff relationships and community support. "We are looking to put structures in place in those specific schools to strengthen the support we give both the students and the staff," Cook told WVLT. Aligning with this objective, schools such as Austin-East High School and Vine Middle School, among others in Region 5, are now collaborating with the International Institute of Restorative Practices in a two-year deal potentially worth $403,000 to the district.

The collaborative efforts between Knox County Schools and organizations like Justice Knox aim to keep students within a constructive learning environment when issues arise. Joe Maddox, co-president of Justice Knox, conveyed a core principle of their approach in an interview with WVLT, "Keep them in school and in a learning environment. Suspension takes them out of a learning environment. What we want to do is keep them in a learning environment." Such initiatives signify the district's commitment to addressing the systemic challenges and ensuring equal opportunities for all students within the educational framework.