Kicking African American students out: reconsider the reasons for suspension

The Center for Civil Rights recently released a report, Out-of-School Suspensions in California’s School Districts Reveal Hidden Crisis,  that looks at disciplinary action taken toward students in California public schools. The Center for Civil Rights reports that nearly 400,000 students were suspended or removed from classrooms. However, if we take a closer look at the numbers, we see that there is a huge racial disparity in the students who are told to leave the classroom.

Among 10 districts, average student suspension rates were:

 41% for African Americans

25% for American Indians

21% for Latinos

14% for Asian Americans

1% for Whites

For students with disabilities, the rates are just as alarming.  Twenty-eight percent of African American students with disabilities were suspended at least once. After analyzing 5 districts, the Center for Civil Rights concluded that African American males with disabilities were at a greater risk of suspension without supervision.

What exactly are students being suspended for?

“Most suspensions are for minor or vague infractions, such as disrespect, defiance and dress code violations, and this is clearly an unsound educational policy,” says coauthor Daniel Losen. “The numbers in our report indicate an absolute crisis in many California districts, since suspending students out of school–with no guarantee of adult supervision – greatly increases the risk for dropping out and involvement in the juvenile justice system.” (UCLA Civil Rights Project, 2012)

I think this shows that the groups of students that need the most amount of support are being suspended from our schools. Clearly we understand the connection between student attendance and academic achievement, but it doesn’t seem like we are quick to understand the connection between being suspended from school and a student’s self –esteem.

Being suspended from school, and then seeing your peers who look just like you also being constantly suspended takes a major toll on a student’s academic self-esteem. These numbers should place some positive pressure on districts to review suspensions happening within their own schools, then to go above and beyond and see if any racial disparities are taking place within that data.

All too often, students of color are wrongfully labeled and/or misdiagnosed within our school districts. Often it is the cultural differences that are mislabeled or not understood. It is important to figure out alternatives to suspensions if a student does “act up,” but at the same time it is important to understand what may seem like “acting up” to an educator may not be to the student. –Joyti Jiandani

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