How Lower Level Schools can Address Racial Bias in the classroom


Carbondale Educational Service District (ESD) 95 punished Black children at disproportionate rates to their white peers, according to the U.S. Department of Education (DOE) data. 

Students that are the subject of discipline measures, especially suspensions or expulsions that remove them from classroom activities, have significantly more trouble succeeding academically, said Travis Riddle, a data scientist at the National Police Foundation. 

“By the definition of the discipline you’re missing time in school that I think makes it hard for students to achieve to the level that they might otherwise,” Riddle said.


Riddle received a doctorate in psychology from Columbia University in New York, and is the author of “Racial disparities in school-based disciplinary actions are associated with county-level rates of racial bias.” He said that while there are schools that are sufficiently improving student disciplinary measures, many are “doing a poor job.” 

“I think it’s worth considering how that continuum exists, and what determines whether a school is on one end or the other,” Riddle said. 

An interactive map from Riddle’s research indicates Black students in Jackson County are at high relative risk for suspensions, and very high relative risk for in-school arrests, compared to their White peers.

The most recent DOE data set, collected in 2017, showed that Black students accounted for 48% of enrollment in Carbondale ESD 95, but received 76.2% of in-school suspensions and 80.6% of out-of-school suspensions.

White students, who accounted for 28% of the district’s enrollment, received 11.9% of in-school suspensions and 8.2% of out-of-school suspensions. 

The percentage of Black students in the district has increased every year since 2011, the earliest year DOE has records made publicly available. 

Carbondale ESD 95, which includes Thomas, Parrish, Lewis and Carbondale Middle schools, has increased enrollment every year since 2011, from 1,296 to 1,546, according to DOE data. 


Black students were suspended at disproportionate rates every year data was publicly available. 

While the disparity in discipline clearly exists between Black and White students, the gap is decreasing as increasing numbers of Black students enter the school district.

Officials from Carbondale ESD 95 and the individual schools did not respond to interview requests from the Daily Egyptian.

One way to continue to reduce the disparity is to create rules that are clear and unambiguous, Riddle said, which limits situations where a student’s actions or tone might be open to interpretation by a teacher or administrator. 

“If a teacher says [a student] was disrespectful that’s a little too vague and ambiguous,” Riddle said. “If you have those really kind of tight guidelines and procedures then it makes it more difficult for these kinds of disparities to manifest.”

Riddle said narrow, clear guidelines don’t stop bias from manifesting, but lessen the impact by reducing the number of situations in which certain kinds of discipline might be employed. Riddle  said a big problem in school discipline issues is people who do not want to acknowledge racial disparities exist in schools.

“If something doesn’t coincide with your worldview or your beliefs it makes it hard to acknowledge it, it makes it hard to acknowledge it, or if you see that information is threatening,” Riddle said.“If you could get people to have, sit down, like one on one conversations with another person, and develop relationships over time with those people and have them come to understandings about, you know their different backgrounds and their differing experiences,” Riddle said.

Karen Samuel, the director of Rainbow’s End, a child development center in Carbondale, teaches children 6 weeks to 9 years-old, said they teach kids to embrace different cultures through books and toys.

We follow an anti-bias curriculum, which celebrates and accepts all cultures, beliefs, and holidays. We have materials in the classrooms which reflect different races, ethnic backgrounds, and abilities,” Samuel said.

Samuel said they also invite parents to talk about the different holidays they celebrate.

“We celebrate differences by using multicultural materials and toys… We also invite parents in to talk about the holidays they celebrate or to share something from their culture or country,” Samuel said.

Rainbow’s End tries to encourage students to embrace other cultures, Samuel said, and trains teachers to stay aware of these situations and handle them accordingly. 

“They are taught to be sensitive to all cultures and beliefs, and to be inclusive in all activities and interactions with the children… They should be aware of how they are speaking or reacting to children to ensure that all children are treated the same,” Samuel said.

Rainbow’s End’s discrimination policy is the same for all faculty that work at Southern Illinois University Carbondale.

[Racial bias incidents] would be handled on a case by case basis, and would not be tolerated,” Samuel said.

Samuel said that they take these situations very seriously, and will not tolerate any bias regarding a student’s race from teachers. 

Our classrooms are evaluated by our state assessors to ensure that we are meeting this standard… We are so fortunate to have a lot of children of different races and cultures at our center so it is naturally incorporated into everything we do,” Samuel said.

Dr. Cheng-Yao Lin, the coordinator of SIU’s elementary education department, said he makes an effort to expose his students to different forms of math tools and equations to open them to different cultural norms in education.

Lin said incorporating different cultural components into the learning process can help reduce bias. 

Lin said he teaches Verdic multiplication which is an ancient Hindu method of math and other methods from different countries such as Japan, Russia and Egypt.

Lin said that he shows his students different countries’ ways of solving problems, such as from a Japanese elementary school textbook, because he feels that it will allow students to see that the American way of solving a math problem is not the only way to solve a problem.

Riddle said another good starting point would be having people sit down for one-on-one conversations to address issues of discipline disparity, though it may seem time consuming or impractical. 

“Develop relationships over time with those people and have them come to understandings about, you know, their different backgrounds and their differing experiences,” Riddle said. 

Staff reporter Janiyah Gaston can be reached at [email protected] or on Instagram at @janiyah_reports. To stay up to date with all your Southern Illinois news follow the Daily Egyptian on Facebook and Twitter.