Gwinnett County Public Schools is launching a major review of its student discipline code to ensure it is not biased or used disproportionately against students of color, Superintendent J. Alvin Wilbanks announced Thursday night.

Wilbanks’ announcement came at the end of the meeting as the county’s school board was wrapping up its business for the night. The superintendent said the district’s goal has long been to make sure its Student Conduct Behavior Code is “firm, fair and flexible.”

He conceded, however, that there are concerns that approach is not being taken, particularly when it comes to disciplining students of color.

“The Board of Education and I have confidence in our discipline code, in the training our employees receive in implementing it, and in how discipline is carried out in our schools,” Wilbanks said. “However, we are hearing from some in the community who have concerns that a disproportionate number of students of color are being disciplined. They also have questions about the consequences given to students who misbehave.

“We are sensitive to their concerns and want to be sure we do not have any blinders on when it comes to an issue that impacts students in such significant ways.”

The review will be comprehensive in nature and is expected to be finished by April 1, 2020. In addition to looking at the district’s Student Behavior Conduct Code, Wilbanks said school system officials will look at associated operational policies that are used to enforce the code.

Gwinnett County Public Schools Executive Director of Academic Support Eric Thigpen has been picked to lead the committee that will conduct the review of the student conduct code. The district’s Associate Superintendent for School Improvement and Operations, Steve Flynt, will be an ad hoc member of the committee.

Wilbanks did not specify names of who else will serve on the review body, but he did imply it may be broad in its makeup.

“This review will involve a number of people, including employees, parents, students and citizens from our community,” the superintendent said. “A process for identifying the members of the committee is in development.”

Wilbanks said student behavior is important to Gwinnett County Public Schools in terms of meeting its mission of student excellence. A key part of that is the Student Conduct Behavior Code, which the superintendent said “communicates the high expectations we have in terms of student behavior.”

The district sees the code as a way to make sure learning time is not diminished because of distractions as well as support for teachers and administrators in the classroom.

Wilbanks said it needs to be free of bias and applied fairly, however.

“We look forward to getting started on the review to ensure Gwinnett County Public Schools is in the best-possible position when it comes to the complex issue of ensuring firm, fair and flexible approaches to student discipline,” Wilbanks said.

“This is an important and timely issue that affects not only GCPS, but school districts and communities throughout our state and nation.”

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I'm a Crawford Long baby who grew up in Marietta and eventually wandered to the University of Southern Mississippi for college. Earned a BA in journalism (double minor in political science and history). Previously worked in Florida and Clayton County.

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