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Dr. Wendy Haight

Caregivers’ Moral Narratives of Their African American Children’s Out-of-School Suspensions: Implications for Effective Family-School Collaborations

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“There is no evidence that African American kids are likely to misbehave than children from other cultural groups, and there is some evidence that suggests that when children from other cultural groups do display behavior similar to the behavior that gets African American kids suspended, they aren’t as harshly disciplined. So, this is a real problem because we also know that there are educational achievement gaps between African American children and children from, for example, European American groups.”

Dr. Wendy Haight

It is a common practice in many school districts to suspend students from school when their behavior is disruptive to others in the school community. This practice is controversial. After all, the most obvious effect of this disciplinary practice is to prevent students from participating in school, formal education, and peer communities. But out-of-school suspensions are controversial for another reason: it is used more against African American students than other students who engage in the same behaviors.

In this podcast, Dr. Wendy Haight discusses the ways that out-of-school suspensions are used disproportionally against African American children and the effects that this practice has on these youth, their caregivers, friends, and communities, as well as the ways that this practice contributes to educational achievement gaps. In the process, she examines the ways that many disciplinary systems in schools are modelled after the criminal justice system and the effects that this has on students and school communities. Dr. Haight discusses the complex, multi-layered components of this problem and highlight the importance of complex, multi-layered interventions to respond to it. In doing so, she focuses on the value of core social work skills, including building relationships and learning from the perspective of multiple stakeholders, and bringing a strengths/empowerment perspective to bear on school disciplinary systems. She also suggests ways that social workers can employ these skills in serving these students, communities, and school systems.

Wendy Haight, PhD, Professor and Gamble-Skogmo Chair in Child Welfare and Youth Policy. Professor Haight completed her undergraduate degree in Psychology at Reed College, and her PhD at University of Chicago where she studied developmental, cultural psychology. Her research focuses on better understanding and supporting vulnerable children and families, especially those involved in public child welfare systems. These projects use mixed methods approaches, and emphasize field (community) initiated and cross cultural research. They include studies focused on maltreated children who become involved in delinquency, maltreated children who have disabilities, legal representation of parents involved with the child welfare system, why Black children are more likely to receive out-of-school suspensions than their white peers, and international child welfare.

Interviewer: Annette Semanchin-Jones, PhD

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