Political heroine’s school discipline debate revived


Batil Joselevitz

Texas State Supreme Court Chief Justice Wallace B. Jefferson delivered a key note address at the Thomposon Conference Monday afternoon. The symposium was held in honor of Barbara Jordan Freedom Week

Sylvia Butanda

Not only a pioneer in Texas’ political and civil rights arenas, Houston native Barbara Jordan was also a faculty member at UT where she is remembered each year on her birthday.

Jordan will be celebrated during her birthday week with student-led events from Feb. 21 to Feb. 24. The Barbara Jordan Freedom Foundation began Jordan’s birthday week by commemorating her ideals as an educator in a symposium on the issue of school discipline Monday at the Thompson Conference Center. Law and education officials, as well as policy makers and concerned citizens, discussed proper ways of enforcing discipline at the forum.

Jordan, the first African-American elected senator in Texas and civil rights movement leader, held a 17-year career as a professor at the LBJ School of Public Affairs in the last years of her life.

Wil Flowers, former judge and current chair of the Barbara Jordan Freedom Association, said the Foundation was established to perpetuate issues that were extremely meaningful to Jordan such as education, children, juvenile justice and racial equity.

“The most memorable aspect of Barbara was her voice,” Flowers said.” We have chosen to have our inaugural project focus on the problems relating to school discipline. She would have lent her voice to call for change.”

Wallace Jefferson, Chief Justice of the Texas Supreme Court, was the keynote speaker at the symposium and said Jordan was an extraordinary leader and generous mentor. He said the purpose of the symposium was to carry out her mission.

Jefferson said the panels were held to shed light on the issues in the school discipline system that is driving students away from school and how Jordan would have been troubled by the current state of the juvenile justice system.

“Compassionate and driven, she worked to end injustice and wanted to ensure that all children would receive the type of education that makes tomorrow’s society better than today,” Jefferson said.

Michele Deitch, professor at the LBJ School of Public Affairs, moderated the first panel of the symposium, which explained the current state of the middle and high school disciplinary systems.

The first panel discussed research collected by justice and education officials which found a trend of a high number of ticket fines, suspensions and expulsions for discretionary violations dealing with the school’s student code of conduct.

“The symposium is to help understand the scope of the problem,” Deitch said. “We want to have a shared understanding of the issue and learn effective approaches other than suspending, expelling and ticketing kids.”

Other panels discussed effective intervention methods for misbehaving students and the implementation of reforms at the school district level in order to shift the culture surrounding school discipline.

The 16th annual Barbara Jordan National Forum, hosted by the LBJ School of Public Affairs, will continue throughout the week. The theme of the discussions this week are based on a quote from her famous keynote address to the 1976 Democratic Convention, “We the People: The America we Pursue, Empowering People Through Collaboration and Ethical Leadership to Create Innovative Solutions.”