Black Students Nationally Disproportionately Disciplined


Black boys and girls are suspended and expelled from schools at extremely high rates

By Frederick H. Lowe

African-American boys comprise 47% of suspensions and 44% of expulsions from kindergarten through 12th grade in public schools in 13 Southern states.  These removals from school result in many of them being referred to the police, unlike white students who are disciplined by school officials, according to a report just published by the University of Pennsylvania.

Black girls, however, are suspended or expelled from school at much higher rates than black boys in Alabama, Arkansas, Florida, Georgia, Kentucky, Louisiana, Mississippi, North Carolina, South Carolina, Tennessee, Texas, Virginia and West Virginia, the states covered in the study. African-American girls comprise 56% of suspensions and 45% expulsions, the report stated.

Nationally, 1.2 million black students were suspended from K-12 public schools in a single academic year, and 55% of the suspensions occurred in the 13 Southern states named, according to a report published by the University of Pennsylvania Graduate School of Education Center for the Study of Race and Equity and Education.

In the U.S., black boys comprised 35% of students’ suspended and 34% of students expelled. Nationally, 45% of black girls were suspended and 42% were expelled.

The study, titled “Disproportionate Impact of K-12 School Suspension and Expulsion on Black Students in Southern States,” reported that African Americans were 24% of the population of the 3,022 districts analyzed, but the rates at which they were suspended or expelled were disproportionately high.

A suspension is a temporary exclusion. An expulsion is a much harsher punishment, which means the student is forced to leave the school grounds until he or she is given permission to return when a negotiated agreement between the student and the school or school district is reached.

The report noted that in 77 Southern school districts, black students were disproportionately expelled at rates five times or higher than their representation in the student population.  In 181 districts, African Americans were 100% of the students expelled from public schools. And in 484 districts, blacks were 50% or more of the students expelled from public schools.

As for suspensions, in 132 school districts, black students were disproportionately suspended at rates five times or higher than their representation in the student population. In 84 districts, African Americans were 100% of students suspended from public schools.

U.S. Rep. Cedric Richmond (D., Louisiana), said, “From the data available, we know that black students are disproportionately suspended, expelled, and referred to the criminal justice system by schools. The overuse of these punishments and disproportionate use on students of color are serious problems that we have to address right now.”

Richmond said suspensions and expulsions often lead to students dropping out of school which in turn results in the student reaching adulthood and earning much less over his or her  lifetime than fellow students who are awarded their high school diplomas.

A 2002 study reported that black students were most often suspended for being disrespectful and threatening, loitering, excessive noise. However, their white classmates were likely referred to school discipline officers for less subjective offenses, such as smoking, leaving school classrooms or school grounds without permission, vandalism and using obscene language, the report stated.

The study notes that zero-tolerance policies enacted through rigid practices and predetermined consequences that limit discretion in individual cases, have led to increased suspensions and expulsions.

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