AUBURN, Wash. — Black and brown students in Auburn schools are disproportionately being suspended and expelled compared to white students, according to recent data.
The Office of Superintendent of Public Instruction's report shows that black students make up 8.2% of Auburn schools, yet they make up 18.5% of suspensions and expulsions.
Students with two or more races make up just 10% of Auburn schools but 14.5% of all suspensions and expulsions.
"A lot of our families of color, a lot of our students of color have not had a positive experience," said Isaiah Johnson, the director of equity with Family Engagement and Outreach at the Auburn School District. "So, we want to change that. We want to make sure every student has a positive experience in our district."
Johnson said over the summer the Auburn School District (ASD) created a district equity statement saying that each student should have an educational experience where they are seen and valued for who they are. The statement also talks about developing the social and academic potential for the future each student chooses.
"We want their voice to help us to change some of the systems, some policies and actually some of the things, the structural things that are going on in our schools," said Johnson.
Jose Carrasco is a sophomore at Auburn High School. He's also a part of the school district's Youth Equity Stewardship (YES) program, designed to be a space for students to have difficult discussions about race and diversity.
"At first, the conversations are hard because we're shy and kind of nervous on what people might say, but as time goes on, it slowly becomes easier," Carrasco said. "Everybody starts to be more open and shares their ideas and opinions about some topics."
ASD has also created a guide for teachers and staff so they have something that will help them create a learning atmosphere with seven principles focused on equity.
"We know that we have to change the educational system," said Johnson. "We know that the system has not worked for all students. Let's be real about that. And so it's our goal to change that, and we need student voices, and I'm going to say this, we also need parent voices to help with that."
Carrasco said programs like "YES" are making an impact.
"It's right now slowly helping us develop our voices, and we're not just quiet. We should be proud of what we're saying, who we are and everything," he said.
A majority of Auburn School District staff are also white, but Johnson thinks the steps ASD is taking could change that.
"I believe if every student has a positive experience, this is my belief, that's our recruitment plan. That's where we will get, I believe, students of color who would want to be teachers," he said.