Blacks bear brunt of school suspensions

JAZELLE HUNT | 3/9/2015, 7:52 a.m.
According to a report released last week, 3.5 million K-12 public school students were suspended in the 2011-2012 school year ...
Dallas ISD elementary students The Dallas Examiner

WASHINGTON (NNPA) – According to a report released last week, 3.5 million K-12 public school students were suspended in the 2011-2012 school year – enough to fill every stadium seat in Super Bowl 1 through Super Bowl 45.

And Black children are bearing the brunt of these excessive suspensions.

The report, Are We Closing the School Discipline Gap?, states, “Demographically, the seven highest-suspending districts all had majority Black enrollment, although the range was from 26 percent to 99 percent Black. Only one [of the seven highest], Taylor, Florida, was majority White, at 67 percent.”

The research, conducted by the Civil Rights Project at UCLA, offers a detailed analysis of public school suspension over the last few years, with the data broken down by elementary and high school, district and state, race and gender, and language and learning ability.

In the past two to five years, schools have made a concerted effort to avoid out-of-school suspensions for elementary schoolchildren, though it still happens. The reversal is not happening as fast at the high school level.

Black high school boys are suspended at the highest rate of all groups – 28.4 percent, compared to the 10 percent national average. Black high school girls follow at 17.9 percent (Native American and Latino boys come next, with 15 and 14 percent, respectively). Between 2002 and 2006, the suspension rate for Black girls increased at the highest rate of all groups.

For Black students with disabilities, the rates are even higher – 33.8 percent for Black high school boys, and 22.5 percent for girls – “shocking” enough to suggest that these students’ civil rights are being “unlawfully violated.”

Out-of-school suspensions also feed the racial and economic achievement gap, and have far-reaching effects on future outcomes.

“… higher suspension rates are closely correlated with higher dropout and delinquency rates, and they have tremendous economic costs for the suspended students, as well as for society as a whole,” the report explains.

“Therefore, the large racial/ethnic disparities in suspensions that we document in this report likely will have an adverse and disparate impact on the academic achievement and life outcomes of millions of historically disadvantaged children.”

The starkness of the data has led schools, administrators, teachers and parents to believe that Black children must be earning these suspension rates. But an examination of the data at the state and district level does not support this belief.

For starters, Black students are enrolled in almost equal numbers in both high-suspending and lower-suspending states. Since 2009, suspensions in the 35 school districts with the lowest suspension rates have continued to decline.

“In other words, readers would be wrong to assume that something about the behavior of Black elementary students requires greater use of suspension,” the report says. “To the contrary, these data, along with several studies that tracked behavior ratings of students as well as disciplinary outcomes suggest that Black students are punished more harshly and more often for subjective minor offenses. Instead, researchers conclude that school policies and practices more than differences in behaviors, predict higher suspension rates.”