The Austin Chronicle

Youth Activists vs. AISD Rules

By Rachel Proctor May, July 9, 2004, News

Neither a shortage of chairs nor the stuffy temperatures dampened the spirits of 60-odd youth activists who crammed Resistencia Bookstore last weekend for a conference convened by the activist group People Organized in the Defense of Earth and Her Resources as part of its ongoing Young Scholars for Justice program. By giving AISD students and recent grads a chance to voice their experiences with school disciplinary policies, the organizers hoped the YSJ event would raise awareness about the policies, which PODER says unfairly target minority students.

The district gives teachers full discretion to remove from their classrooms students who are creating a "disturbance," and PODER says this lets teachers get rid of "troublemakers" too easily – creating a cycle where students are labeled as "disruptive" and removed again and again before finally ending up in AISD's alternative learning center or the criminal justice system. And because 70% of AISD teachers are white, for a student population that's almost 70% minority, PODER says "personal bias" and cultural misunderstandings influence which students teachers consider "disturbing" enough to warrant removal.

"I got sent to [isolation] for yelling, but you know me, I just talk loud," said Akins High School junior Sylvia Redonice (loudly). She complained that the counselors assigned to isolation weren't qualified to help her with her schoolwork, so her time in isolation was educational time wasted.

The young scholars proposed hiring more teachers of color and monitoring the number and frequency of student removals from each class – to tell which teachers are abusing the policy – as ways to improve the situation.

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