BY CASH MICHAELS OF THE WILMINGTON JOURNAL
A University of Pennsylvania Graduate School of Education study released this week finds that black students attending public school in North Carolina and other southern states are subject to being suspended or expelled more than any other group.
The report titled, “Disproportionate Impact of K-12 School Suspension and expulsion on Black Students in Southern States,” authored by researchers Edward J. Smith and Shaun R. Harper, notes that, according to US Dept. of Education data, of the 1.2 million black students who, “…were suspended from K-12 public schools in a single academic year (2011-2012) – 55 percent of those suspensions occurred in 13 Southern states.”
The report went to state, “Districts in the South also were responsible for 50 percent of black student expulsions from public schools in the United States.”
The study adds that black students were 24 percent of the 3,022 school districts analyzed, but their suspension and expulsion rates were disproportionately higher at “…rates five times or higher than their representation in the student population.”
And it gets worse. In at least 84 Southern public school districts, black students comprised one hundred percent of school suspensions. Mississippi had the highest black student suspension rate proportionally at 74 percent, while Florida had the highest number at 121,468.
Here in North Carolina, the data is no less sobering.
According to the report, “65,897 black students were suspended from North Carolina K-12 public schools in a single academic year (2011-2012). Blacks were 26 percent of students in school districts across the state, but comprised 51 percent of suspensions and 38 percent of expulsions.”
The study then states that “Crosscreek Charter School, Elkin City Schools, Roxboro Community School, and Sterling Montessori Academy and Charter School are among the districts in which suspensions most disproportionately affect black students.”
But there were others.
During the 2011-2012 school year in North Carolina, blacks are 42 percent of enrollment, but comprise 70.7 percent of suspensions. In Cumberland County Schools, blacks are 44.8 percent of enrolled students, but are suspended 63.4 percent of the time. Durham Public Schools have a 51 percent black student enrollment, with a 72.8 percent black suspension rate.
Black students made up just 22.2 percent of black student enrollment in New Hanover County Public Schools in 2011-2012, but more than doubled that number with suspensions at 53.1 percent. The rate of suspension in Wake County was virtually similar at 53.3 black student suspension, but only 24.7 percent black student enrollment.
According to a foreword to the report by Congressman Cedric Richmond, a Democrat from Louisiana, “…these punishments are not applied equally. 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 their disproportionate use on students of color are serious problems that we have to address right now. “
Cong. Richmond continued, “We need to place greater importance on getting data from schools on the use of suspensions, expulsions, and arrests in schools. Getting complete data on who suffers these punishments, why they receive them, and what the outcomes of the punishment are can help us fully understand what is happening in our nation’s schools. We need to provide better training to teachers and administrators so that they have the tools to deescalate and mitigate situations.”
“We also need to provide better guidance to schools on best practices so that student discipline is handled fairly instead of through arbitrary and heavy-handed ‘zero tolerance’ policies. Encouraging administrators, police, and judges to prioritize rehabilitation and school attendance over severe punishments would also lead to better outcomes. “
The authors of the report say they want teachers and administrators, “…to use this report to raise consciousness about implicit bias and other forces that cyclically reproduce racial inequities in school discipline. We hope this report is not misused to reinforce deficit, criminalized narratives about Black children. The alarming data presented herein go beyond student misbehavior and bad parenting – they also are attributable to racist practices and policies.”
“Our aim is to equip anyone concerned about the school-to-prison pipeline and the educational mistreatment of Black youth with numbers they can use to demand justice from school boards, educational leaders, and elected officials.”