(FinalCall.com) – A new report states that the disproportionate suspension of Black students over Whites from schools in Kentucky contributes to that state’s academic achievement gap.
“Unintended Consequences: The Impact of Zero Tolerance and other Exclusionary Policies on Kentucky Students,” released Feb. 20, found that not only are Black students suspended at rates exceedingly higher than Whites, but that tens of thousands of students are suspended from Kentucky schools each year for minor school board policy violations.
The report–penned by the National Institute on Children, Youth & Families, at Spalding University in Louisville; the Children’s Law Center in Covington, Ky; the Youth Law Center in Washington, D.C.; and commissioned by the Building Blocks for Youth Initiative, a national campaign to promote a fair and effective youth justice system–found more than 68,000 suspensions occurred in the 2000-2001 school year, with Black students receiving suspensions up to 17 times more than Whites.
In addition, the report found that many of the Blacks are referred to Kentucky’s juvenile courts for minor and mischievous behaviors that are not considered criminal.
“When policies send a message to African American youth that they are disposable and less valuable, its no wonder that Kentucky is struggling with a dramatic achievement gap,” said David Richart, director of the National Institute on Children and the report’s co-author. “Zero tolerance policies seem to be a back-door way of getting rid of certain student populations.”
The major findings of the report, according to the group, are “highly consistent” with two recent national reports and research data going back more than 25 years. Those reports determined the vast majority of school disruption is not dangerous, that school suspension tends to be overused for relatively minor disruption, and that the primary victims of school removal are Black.
Between 75 and 80 percent of all school-initiated incidents referred to the courts are for truancy, incidents beyond the reasonable control of the school, or other minor behavior problems. The number of referrals for serious offenses is very small. According to judges and court staff interviewed for the report, the referrals for minor misbehavior are beginning to overwhelm the state’s juvenile courts.
“This report documents that our schools are suspending and, even worse, locking up school children for minor adolescent behavior that used to require a trip to the principal’s office,” stated Judith A. Brown, senior attorney at The Advancement Project in Washington, D.C. “From the schoolhouse to the jailhouse they go, with little opportunity to learn. This is especially true for African-American youth,” she said.
The report answers three questions, according to the authors: What is the scope of the juvenile crime problem in Kentucky’s public schools? How have the schools reacted? Have any groups been disproportionately affected by school discipline policies?
The report recommends that Kentucky school administrators provide a safe environment for students, but not one that relies on harsh and inflexible “zero tolerance” policies. Where student misconduct is alleged, school officials should exercise sound discretion that considers the individual student and the particular circumstances of the incident.
The report further suggests that students should be removed from school by suspension or expulsion only as a last resort and administrators should develop alternatives to out-of-school suspension and expulsion to hold students more accountable for actions. Lastly, school districts should insure that their disciplinary policies and practices do not fall disproportionately on non-whites it read.