Opinion Columns & Blogs

Jack Focht: How do school board candidates plan to improve community?

You may not have stopped to think about what school board members can influence. It goes well beyond “reading, writing, and arithmetic.” In fact, there’s a good chance many of the issues you care about are playing out right now in a school near you.

Are you concerned about people going hungry in our community? School districts play an important role in improving student health and well-being, and are an essential source of nutritious food for many low-income students.

The Wichita school district can serve many more students at breakfast and lunch by adopting the Community Eligibility Provision, which allows high-poverty schools to provide free meals to all students. Last school year, 57 schools in the district could have provided free meals to over 28,000 students, but none participated.

Do you think our community could do more to support people with disabilities? School boards can help their schools be inclusive by ensuring that students with disabilities have the resources they need to succeed in the general education classroom.

The share of students with disabilities who spend at least 80 percent of the school day in general education classrooms has been steadily increasing in Wichita, but still has not reached the statewide target. Progress toward greater inclusion should be celebrated, but merely placing a student with disabilities in the general education classroom is not enough. As students with disabilities spend more time in the general education classroom, schools must also ensure that these students and their teachers have the tools they need to be successful in that environment.

Do you worry that our justice system does not always treat people equally? School boards can help create just school communities by ensuring that discipline policies are effective and fair to all students, regardless of race or disability.

Zero-tolerance policies and harsh punishments have increased suspensions and contact with the juvenile justice system but have not generally improved behavior in the classroom. In the most recent nationally-compiled data, the Wichita district suspended black and Latino students at about twice the rate of white students. the district referred 688 students to law enforcement in 2013-14.

I serve on the board of Kansas Appleseed, a nonprofit justice center that supports thriving, inclusive, and just communities, and whose views are reflected in this column. Kansas Appleseed is sponsoring a school board candidate forum at 6 p.m. Monday at the Wichita Central Library (RSVP at www.KansasAppleseed.org/RSVP).

School board candidates have a chance to shape the environment where our young people grow up. Take advantage of this opportunity to hear what they have to say about issues that are important to you.

Jack Focht is a retired Wichita attorney.