“The district has been unable to provide RMF with evidence that Ms. London’s equity training program is meaningfully addressing the racial disparities in out-of-school suspensions, harassment, bullying, and attendance. Further, the district has also failed to address its practices and protocols that leave children with special needs the victims of inappropriate physical restraint, isolation, and seclusion,” says Traci Wilson-Kleekamp, the group’s president.
RMF began its inquiry into the district’s practices in the aftermath of the human rights complaint filed by Kandas Holmes-Barnes, which charged that her daughter was dehumanized, harassed and bullied at Smithton Middle School. Smithton school principal Chris Drury, RMF learned, did not deploy restorative practices to quell known and reported initial conflicts that eventually became physical ones.
Holmes-Barnes provided evidence of harassment which included racially offensive images (nooses, confederate flags and racial epithets) as well as death threats from a white male student using social media. These images were also shared with the Boone County Sheriff’s Department, which did not take the matter seriously nor investigate the evidence presented. Moreover, the same male student involved in the social media postings was never interviewed as a part of School Resource Officer (SRO) Tony Ash’s interrogation into the fight that later erupted between two female students on January 10, 2019, at Smithton Middle School.
The Columbia Police Department (CPD) Internal Affairs report related to the wrongful arrest of Ms. Homes-Barnes’ daughter also indicates that Officer Ash failed to take notes and collect witness statements before he made the arrest while “using only free recall of what he was told'' despite that fact that the young woman was actually not involved in the fight. He subsequently said he was unable to remember what the witnesses had stated. At least two of the witness statements Officer Ash neglected to obtain in writing were from Smithton Principal Chris Drury, who reportedly was present and broke up the fight, along with school counselor Amanda Anderson. The report reflected contradictory statements by witnesses, but the initial allegations reported to Officer Ash by Smithton staff who worked under Drury’s authority were what led to the wrongful arrest of Ms. Holmes-Barnes 14- year-old daughter -- allegations which were made and confirmed, based entirely on hearsay.
Because of this faulty dependence on hearsay, both the SRO and Principal Drury failed to protect a minor, and the young student subsequently spent 24 hours In the local juvenile detention center for offenses she did not commit. To help explain this grave error, Smithton Principal Drury claimed the school’s camera was not adequately positioned to obtain visual evidence. Fortunately, with evidence provided in a video that was recorded by a student, Holmes-Barnes’ daughter was released with no charges brought against her. Unfortunately, the severe trauma the young woman experienced for an offense she did not commit while being held in juvenile detention, along with harassment she received from both students and teachers upon her return to school, cannot be adequately treated with the private apologies offered by the entities and individuals involved in her wrongful detainment. In a further troubling development, both CPS Superintendent Peter Stiepleman and Chief Equity Officer London claimed they were not aware of the wrongful arrest of Ms. Holmes Barnes’ daughter back in January, or that a human rights complaint was filed, until RMF shared the information with them by email. This despite the fact that Holmes-Barnes had publicly expressed her concerns at CPS School Board and Columbia City Council meetings as well as at a meeting of the Citizens Police Review Board.
Mayor Treece and the Columbia City Council are the only officials to date to respond to the issues raised by Ms. Holmes Barnes. In a letter to the CPS Board of Education President Helen Wade and her Board colleagues, dated July 1, 2019, the Mayor and Council noted in pertinent part: “Officers working in schools are sometimes used to separate youth from the school because of violence or other offenses. However, officers should also participate in the restorative practice meetings between parents, school staff, and the student to bring youth back into the school environment as part of the solution.”
While School Resource Officers are called to support school challenges, Columbia Public Schools has failed to apply restorative practices in collaboration with the Columbia Police Department, either as a part of the Police Department’s task to implement community-oriented policing or as part of the school system’s purported commitment to restorative -- as opposed to retributive -- practices. To date, neither the CPS board, Superintendent Stiepleman nor CEO London has responded to the City’s letter.
Unlike CPS, CPD’s new police chief Geoff Jones has expressed an interest in learning more about restorative practices and has met with CPS Superintendent Stiepleman to discuss collaborative possibilities and costs of contractual services for providing public safety to local schools. RMF appreciates that Chief Jones sustained Holmes-Barnes’ complaint and made himself available to answer her questions about the internal affairs process. Jones, like Mayor Treece and the Columbia City Council, also agrees that a collaborative effort that enjoins restorative tools as a policy practice is essential to moving forward. RMF has also sought to understand the relationship between Columbia Public Schools and the Columbia Police Department in terms of collaboration and communication to aid in resolving student conflict. CPS has provided RMF with a copy of a Memorandum of Understanding (MOU) that recently expired and which does not formally address a protocol for managing student conflict with institutional values that deploy restorative practices.
Emily Hanson and Alicia Hernández, organizers with the American Civil Liberties Union of Missouri (ACLU-MO), have also expressed concerns about CPS’s lack of documentation and metrics to assess progress. The ACLU of Missouri assisted RMF in filing an open records request to assess CPS' equity training curriculum and the use of restorative practices. Significantly, responses to this request did not yield records that indicate:
“Moving forward,” Hernández says, “The ACLU plans to follow-up and attempts to obtain documents that answer these questions.”
RMF believes Chief Equity Officer London’s lack of professional involvement attending to the inequitable and egregious treatment of Ms. Holmes-Barnes’ daughter is typical of the treatment of CPS families whose children are diagnosed with behavioral issues and/or special needs.
RMF has been advocating with LaQuesha Jackson and her 10-year-old son since the Spring of 2018. Ms. Jackson originally requested advocacy assistance from Worley Street Roundtable after he was arrested during an episode of de-regulation on the school bus. Worley Street Roundtable advocates referred Jackson to RMF for further assistance as she continued to strive for her son’s academic success despite his special needs and behavioral problems. An RMF member attended several Individualized Education Program (IEP) and multi-agency team meetings with Ms. Jackson. In a phone conversation with that RMF member/advocate CEO London indicated that RMF should not be advocating for this family because “...there were things about the family that we did not know, and the school district could not share with us.” It was implied that if we knew what the district knew, we would have a very different understanding of the family’s relationship with the school. In other words, this family was labeled and categorized as problematic.
CEO London attended an IEP meeting in May 2017, where an RMF member attended with Ms. Jackson to discuss concerns about her son’s treatment and overall academic progress during the course of his elementary school education. CEO London repeatedly interrupted Jackson by trying to steer the conversation away from Jackson’s well-documented concerns -- including her concerns that her son was repeatedly restrained, bruised, and sent home with torn clothing. Ms. Jackson also wanted to address the disrespectful treatment she and her son received from staff.
Repeatedly, Chief Equity Officer London made excuses for CPS staff’s treatment of the Jacksons, justifying it by blaming their lack of professionalism on her son’s disruptive behavior. Despite CEO London’s attempts to derail the discussion, Ms. Jackson guided staff through the steady decline of her son’s academic achievement and classroom challenges since First Grade. CEO London, however, refused to consider different approaches for engaging Jackson’s son. She also suggested that the arrest of Jackson’s son, as well as a subsequent law enforcement interaction in which he was driven to his after-school program in a police car, were intentional attempts by the school to provide students with positive interactions with the police.
RMF believes any suggestion that being arrested might be a positive interaction for an elementary school student is absurd and offensive. Chief Equity Officer London has failed to question or investigate the behavior or practices of her staff at any of the schools Jackson’s son has attended in order to determine the merit of Ms. Jackson’s concerns. Further, CEO London has not engaged the equity team at C.O.R.E, nor has she employed any of the restorative practices she is charged with implementing in her job description. Additionally, RMF has not seen London visibly active in the community in order to engage in any issues around social equity and restorative practices -- another of the responsibilities addressed in the description of her job.
In fact, after RMF reviewed and discussed Ms. London’s job description as Chief Equity Officer for Columbia Public Schools, within our group and community, we felt that she was not meeting the benchmarks for the essential responsibilities and duties of her position. We concluded the following evidence as deficiencies as follows (see attached job description):
RMF is calling for London’s resignation because she is not meeting our expectations -- expectations we have based on her job description as Chief Equity Officer -- by providing transparent evidence of assessment, evaluation, and accountability mechanisms and processes for both restorative programs and practices related to "equity" work without obfuscation. Additionally, in our view, she has failed to present metrics of progress and success that are clearly defined by rubrics that should be explicitly stated in district policies. RMF thinks it is London’s job to advocate to fill these policy gaps to the school board and superintendent, in tandem with community outreach. At present, neither equity nor restorative practices -- programs and practices which both Superintendent Stiepleman and Chief Equity Officer London claim CPS values and employs -- are expressly named, defined and embraced as an integral part of the Columbia Public School District’s mission and vision anywhere in the district policies.
RMF believes Chief Equity Officer Carla London is failing to engage in a collaborative, community-centered and inclusive approach to transforming the district’s legacy of racism and inequity. A few trainings do not equal the restorative practices needed to erase the harms of Columbia’s Little Dixie legacy upon its Black community.