February 14, 2020 - Volume 40 Issue 6



It’s way too easy to judge a book by its cover and is exactly what’s happening to our children in West Virginia.

Data from the West Virginia Department of Education shows that poor white children and black students are disproportionately expelled in West Virginia public schools when compared to the numbers of more affluent students.

We believe that it’s time the West Virginia Legislature take a serious look at these numbers and come up with a workable solution that will change the tide for these students.

Having an equal chance to take part in society and have a shot at the American Dream should not be governed by a person’s upbringing or economic class into which they were born. Those are both realities that children have no control over.

While we do not condone the behaviors that bring these disciplinary actions on the students, we believe there is a better way to enact behavioral change other than simply putting a kid on the street. And that is exactly what expulsion does – kids end up on the streets and are then left to their own devices.

Poor children – regardless of their color – are already fighting the odds in the climb to prosperity simply because of the cycle of poverty into which they born.

It should be the role of the schools to help create an environment that not only sets boundaries of appropriate discipline but gives these children an equal chance.

Last week, the House of Delegates Education Committee heard from Charleston minister Rev. Matthew J. Watts of Grace Bible Church who broke down the data for committee members.

Watts said he believes there is an implicit bias among school district officials in dealing with children from these two demographic groups.

“Something is built into the cultural lens of the school system,” Watts said.

While we do not support attempts to legislate behavior, we do entrust our elected officials to examine problems in our society and offer creative solutions that can be applied over time.

Like Watts, we believe such strategies as in-school suspension should be deployed at every level and make expulsion the tactic of last resort.

Children cannot learn if they are kicked out of the school they are supposed to attend.

Watts also said he believes West Virginia’s low academic achievement, low labor force participation and poverty can be attributed to school suspensions. And when a child is suspended, those days are considered as unexcused absences, which serve to push the student further and further into an inescapable abyss.

It’s the same punitive effect of taking someone’s driver’s license away for not paying child support. The driver’s license helps a person get to a job that, in turn, helps pay for the child support.

So, with information such as this, one has to ask if the school districts have simply washed their hands of these kids and said, “Not my problem.”

In reality, there are children in our schools whose lives could be turned around by an inspiring teacher, coach or counselor. We just have to stop looking down our noses at one another to get to that place.

Editor’s Note: Published in the Opinion section of the February 7, 2020, edition of the Times West Virginian (Fairmont). Used by permission.