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Editorial board: Deb Anselm, Publisher; Matt Christensen, Executive Editor; Bill Wundram, Associate Editor; Jon Alexander, Editorial Page Editor; John Wetzel, Community member. Quad-City Times editorials reflect the opinion of the editorial board. The board formally meets 9 a.m. Wednesdays. Contact the board or send letters to opinions@qctimes.com, or by calling (563) 383-2320.

Editorial: Davenport's racial inequity is undeniable

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J.B. Young

This mural, painted in 2007, is in the hallway near the gym at Davenport's former J.B. Young school. Mike Maloney, district operations director, said a committee will decide on the placement of art in the former school, now being renovated as a community center and the district's new headquarters.

Davenport Community School District is rife with inequity. Just ask the district's black students. 

They're disproportionately rammed into special education programs. They're significantly more likely to be placed in restraints. They're booted from the classroom at rates far above their white counterparts. 

There can be no other conclusion from a scathing state audit of Davenport Community School District's special education programming released this past week. The audit's findings — that students of color are disproportionately placed in special ed — pairs too closely with state Education Department data that say the district's black students, just 19 percent of the total student population, comprised a whopping 62 percent of out-of-school suspensions in 2016-17. Special education students — inordinately black — constitute more than sixty percent of all out-of-school suspensions year.

The out-of-school suspension data point would be troubling enough on its own, a sample among a nationwide epidemic long known to researchers. It becomes downright shocking when considered within statewide context. Students at Davenport Community School District are suspended at rates far higher than at any other district in Iowa, a fact Quad-City Times reported in January.

District officials and faculty defend Davenport's seemingly racially tinged system of punishment that drives black students out of classrooms. More than one official has expressed a widespread sentiment that Davenport's students aren't suspended enough.

Bad, sometimes violent behavior, they say, is an epidemic. Davenport's socio-economic conditions — the white flight and competition from more moneyed neighboring schools — invalidates comparisons with other districts in the state, they claim. 

But accepting those claims means believing that Davenport's students — its black students in particular — are several times more likely to fight or cuss out a teacher than their peers in Des Moines, a district touting twice the number to students and substantially more racial diversity. It means believing that Davenport's children are especially violent. It means that Davenport's children are — for whatever reason — hyper-aggressive social outliers from every other community in the state.

Acceptance of any of which flies in the face of a mountain of research that, over and over, suggests implicit racial bias — hammered into the American subconscious by centuries of fear mongering — is driving disproportionate punishment of minorities, especially African Americans, in American public schools.

Race and class are inexorably linked in the U.S., and class is a near iron-clad predictor of classroom performance among students both white and brown. But the plight of poor, inner-city African Americans is unique because it's the direct result of centuries of economic and political repression. Jim Crow died just two generations ago. It's wholly unreasonable to expect an entire population to gain equal footing in just 50 years. In fact, recent research suggested that a black child raised in a middle class home enters adulthood on equal socio-economic footing as a white child from a poor family. 

Jim Crow's ghost still haunts all corners of the country. It's there, as researchers continually conclude, when primarily white school teachers and administrators disproportionately ram black students into special education classes. And it rears its head in school district such as Davenport, where black students are objectively punished more severely than their white counterparts.

The public school district is the soul of every American community. Teachers and administrators struggle under budgetary constraints not of their own making. Teachers are an especially under-appreciated, embattled cohort right now. And everyday, teachers throughout the district are going about their jobs for all the right reasons. But none of that justifies circling the wagons and defending the indefensible. 

There can be no doubt about the good that happens every day within Davenport Community School. But there can be no longer be any doubt about the existence of troubling systemic failings, too.

State officials know it. So, too, will any objective observer willing to pour through the numbers.

And this reality will impose an unacceptable stain on the entire community until district officials grapple with racial inequities that are now undeniable.

Local editorials represent the opinion of the Quad-City Times editorial board, which consists of Publisher Deb Anselm, Executive Editor Matt Christensen, Editorial Page Editor Jon Alexander, Associate Editor Bill Wundram and community representative John Wetzel.

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