Wednesday, 7 March 2012

Race a factor in student discipline

WASHINGTON — African-American or Hispanic students may be more likely to be suspended, expelled — or even arrested — than their white peers. What's not clear is why.

Is it discrimination, as some civil rights groups contend, or are minority students committing more infractions? Or are minority students receiving tougher punishments than whites for similar incidents?

What is known, from an Education Department civil rights report released Tuesday is that Hispanic and African-American students comprise nearly three quarters of students involved in school-related arrests or cases handed over to police. The report also found that black students are more than three times as likely as their white peers to be suspended or expelled. And, that a disproportionate number of black students with disabilities are strapped down or subjected to other restraints.

"The sad fact is that minority students across America face much harsher discipline than non-minorities, even within the same school," said Education Secretary Arne Duncan.

Civil rights activists said they weren't surprised by the results. They blamed get tough, "zero tolerance" policies that they say contribute to a "schools-to-prisons" pipeline. The problem, they say, is that zero tolerance applies more to minorities than white children.

Raul Gonzalez, legislative director at the National Council of La Raza who taught in New York, said zero tolerance policies in schools and courtrooms have created a system that takes children out of school and ultimately leads them into prison where they become hardened criminals. He said more moderate responses are needed in schools,.

"We've lost control of all judgment here, and it's almost always a black kid or a Hispanic kid" affected, Gonzalez said.


A first step, said Kwame Morton, a black principal at Joyce Kilmer Elementary School in Cherry Hill, N.J., is a greater understanding of the cultural background of students and how they communicate.


"Unless people in the school have the mindset where they are going to love the students and be willing to work with the kids and nurture them and guide them and rehabilitate them and when they mess up continue to teach them ...I think it's going to be a continual cycle of just coming in, kids will do things, there will be harsh consequences and penalties, they'll be gone for a while, come back and do the same thing," Morton said.

According to the report, 42 percent of the referrals to law enforcement involve black students and 29 percent involved Hispanics, while 35 percent of students involved in school-related arrests were black and 37 percent were Hispanic. Black students made up 18 percent of the students in the sample, but were 35 percent of the suspended.

Source - Times Union.