I-TEAM: Is there a discrepancy when it comes to which students are referred to law enforcement?

Published: Aug. 14, 2019 at 4:28 PM EDT
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Wednesday, August 14, 2019

News 12 at 6 O’Clock/NBC at 7

AUGUSTA, GA (WRDW/WAGT) – All of our local students will be back in school next week.

August 19 is an especially busy day with four more of our local counties heading back to class, back to extracurricular activities, and back to homework.

Meanwhile, the I-Team has been doing some homework of their own – a math problem that’s uncovered a bigger problem in our local schools.

It has to do with discipline, and we're not talking about detention or even suspensions. We're talking about the times schools call law enforcement. The numbers we crunched could expose a disturbing trend.

Kendahl Brockington is preparing for the biggest fight of his life.

"Kendahl will be World Champion,” said trainer James Hankinson. “He's going to be the best heavyweight that Aiken, South Carolina has ever seen."

In December, the 16-year-old from Aiken will fight for a spot on the US Olympic boxing team.

“When I first got him, he stayed in a little bit of trouble,” Hankinson said. “Kendahl is not a bad child."

But he was a child with a bad reputation, which hits hard.

"All I heard was you're a bad child,” Brockington said. “You're never going to be nothing in life. Like you'll be in the streets when you get older. "

With that kind of talk from teachers and other students, Brockington was eventually beat down. So he started to beat up other kids. He was constantly in trouble for fighting. What if he didn’t have boxing?

“I would probably be locked up right now,” Brockington said. “I'd probably be in jail."

Last year, Richmond County reports more than 2,000 fights. Columbia County reported just 63.

Local schools call law enforcement for things like weapons and drugs, but not every time.

Like the year Aiken County reported 14 weapons and seven drug distribution incidents to the State Department of Education. We could only find four weapons and one drug incident on file with law enforcement.

It seems there could be some discretion. Richmond County Board of Education has its own police department.

What about Columbia and Aiken counties? The answer isn't just in the number of black and white students referred to law enforcement. It's in the rate. There are 15,811 white students and 5,122 black students.

Let's use Columbia County, for example. It's mostly white, but the racial breakdown of law enforcement referrals shows 83 white students involved law enforcement of 15,811 white students and 80 black students involved law enforcement out of 5,122 black students.

What this really says is that black students are being referred to law enforcement more than three times that of white students. Using the same math, we calculated the black student rate is two-and-a-half times the white rate.

In Richmond County, a similar result -- at twice the rate.

What we don't know is what a student did to get punishment. We recognize that's a big variable. The government office that collects the data on when law enforcement is brought in doesn't specify why, at least not that we could find in any of the data we crunched this summer. Local tribunal data doesn't specify a student's race. The name of students on those reports is also redacted before it's released to media.

"When it comes to black and white, that's the uncomfortable part - that people don't want to - when you start talking about black children doing this and white children doing that, that's not really easy to talk about. However, it is a problem,” said Richmond County School Board member Dr. Wayne Frazier.

It's one Frazier member has seen first-hand. As a principal and educator, Frazier has been on the front lines.

“Sometimes their mannerisms and the way they talk and how they act may not be something to call the police about or give them a referral for bad conduct,” Frazier said. “It's just that if you don't have a culture or a background that identifies with this particular child, you are less tolerant of some of their behaviors."

But what if you've got a reputation?

"The success or failure of a student sometimes began and end in the minds of the educator. If I think a certain way about you when you walk in the door - if it's negative, it's going to be hard for you to prove otherwise,” Frazier said.

"And it's hard to get out of that unless you realize that you've been conditioned to think a certain way about a certain kind of people or whatever. Sometimes, you've got to sit back and think about human beings -- these are human beings.”

Each student's success is a win for the community.

"And I hope from this, we can start having the dialogue, start talking, because I've seen, I've lived through this,” Frazier said. “I've seen it. And I know it exists. I don't have to read the data. As a matter of fact, I think I'm part of the data."

Brockington has seen that data, too, when a student at his school was arrested.

"He got booked into the system and everything,” Brockington said.

Brockington, meanwhile, is booking a flight to Louisiana, so he can hopefully then book one to Toyko.

"So I got to do it for the community,” Brockington said. “For Aiken."

Copyright 2019 WRDW/WAGT. All rights reserved.

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