Forest Park School District 91 faced a complex balancing act in finding a fair and effective solution to the discipline problems that have concerned many Forest Park Middle School parents in recent months.
On the one hand, the district could no longer deny that this was an issue that needed to be dealt with. Though administrators may feel that the problem is exaggerated, it is an issue to residents and, therefore, must be an issue to the district.
On the other hand, administrators are probably correct in saying that the problem was inflated, as there are often undertones of bigotry to the complaints, which have increased along with the percentage of black students in the district.
It often seems that five black students talking on a street corner are assumed by many to be gangbanging, while five white students are assumed to be waiting for their carpool, or just hanging out. The black students, oftentimes, are also assumed to be from out of town, as many seem not to have noticed that well over 30 percent of the village’s population is now African American.
The community needs to put these prejudices aside in order to take a rational approach to issues of discipline among the students, which certainly do exist, as evidenced by the brawl which followed dismissal on the last day of school.
Though residency issues are real and the district must do all it can to ensure that Forest Park schools serve Forest Park residents only, the amount of attention given to the issue makes it somewhat of a distraction, as it prevents many from accepting the reality that most of the problems do, indeed, arise from children of Forest Park residents.
Instead of throwing blame around and pointlessly wishing for those they perceive as problem students to be thrown out into someone else’s hometown, Forest Parkers must work together to find ways to adapt to the village’s changing demographics.
Of course, for this to happen it is essential that strong leadership emerge to represent the minority and low-income populations in town. At this time, the only people doing so seem more focused on making scenes at meetings than on working with officials to get something done.
In the meantime, we commend District 91 for taking a multifaceted and comprehensive approach to the issue. The recommendations discussed by the school board last week included both “hard” and “soft” solutions, ranging from increased security and surveillance to outreach to troubled students and training for teachers in dealing with the challenges presented by low-income students.
The high school district already drives enough families out of Forest Park due to legitimate fears of both violence and a plain bad education, and it is absolutely essential to ensure that our middle school continues to steer clear of that path.