Nicole Baker Fulgham: Prepared Remarks for Meeting with U.S. Education Secretary Betsy DeVos

For Immediate Release
May 24, 2018
Contact: Chris LaTondresse
(202) 368-0139, chris@expectations.org

Prepared remarks from Nicole Baker Fulgham, President, The Expectations Project for a meeting with U.S. Education Secretary Betsy DeVos on school discipline disparities

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Thank you Secretary DeVos for making this meeting possible, and for your team’s efforts to bring us together. I’m Dr. Nicole Baker Fulgham, founder of The Expectations Project. We lead the nation’s largest movement of people of faith committed to ending the extreme disparities in our nation’s public schools.

There are two things you need to know about me.

First, I’m an evangelical Christian—something you and I share.

Second, as a former public school teacher, I’ve given my life to ensuring every child has access to a high-quality education, regardless of their zip code, money their parents make, or color of their skin.

My experience as an educator tells me that, despite our best efforts, students of color are not only falling far behind academically—these same students are often disciplined more frequently and more severely than their white peers.

But this goes way beyond what I personally witnessed in our schools.

It shows up in federal civil rights data from this department showing unequal suspensions of black students.

It shows up in countless investigations conducted by this department finding that school districts expelling and suspending black students in higher numbers also, unsurprisingly, often punish them more severely.

And it shows up in stories of students like Steven, whose recent suspension sent ripple effects through his family and faith community. Before this meeting, I spoke with Steven’s pastor, Rev. Williams who told me, Steven was suspended from school for using disrespectful language.

When other students said similar things they received a warning. But Steven, an African American male, was suspended and told he was “intimidating and a danger to others.”

The Bible tells us every child is created in the image of God and that how we treat those who Jesus called “the least of these” is the true measure of our faithfulness. How we treat the vulnerable is how we love God.

As Christians, we not only share a common bond through our faith. We also share a common calling to confront societal sins that harm the image of God in every human being.

From slavery, to Jim Crow, to a legal doctrine of “separate but equal” that propped up government-sanctioned segregation in our schools for generations—institutional racism is our nation’s original sin.

So when we discover that students of color today are punished more often and more severely in a way that’s measurable across the entire system, we must call it what it is—institutional racism—and seek to end it.

That’s something we should all agree on, especially those of us who share a common bond of faith.

As I conclude my remarks, I leave you with this:

In this envelope, I have a letter for you signed by nearly 25,000 people of faith, many from the communities most directly affected by unequal school discipline policies. They’ve asked me to hand-deliver this message.

They’re asking you to place their concerns about institutional racism at the center of your decisions about school-discipline guidelines aimed at reducing suspensions and protecting students from discrimination.

We believe now is the time to strengthen existing guidance, rather than weaken or eliminate it.

Millions of pastors and community leaders, parents and students, are depending on you.

May God grant you wisdom and discernment in the weeks ahead.

Thank you.

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Comments
  • Arthur J Taylor
    Reply

    Such a wonderful project! It sheds light on a very meaningful and true problem in our school system.

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