” *The Edvocate is pleased to publish guest posts as way to fuel important conversations surrounding P-20 education in America. The opinions contained within guest posts are those of the authors and do not necessarily reflect the official opinion of The Edvocate or Dr. Matthew Lynch.**
Esther Canty-Barnes, Rutgers University Newark
Although it has been over 60 years since the Brown v Board of Education decision, black students are still more likely to receive out-of-school suspensions for minor violations of the code of conduct. As a result, they are more likely to drop out of school or enter the juvenile justice system.
Black students constituted 32%-42% of those suspended during the 2011-12 school year, even though they represented 16% of the student population.
As racial tensions resurface in the aftermath of the conflicts and riots in Ferguson and Baltimore, we need to consider whether some of these issues have their origins in the manner in which children of color are treated in our schools.
As a clinical professor of law at the Rutgers University Law School’s Education and Health Law Clinic, I provide legal representation to parents and their children in cases where they are being denied an appropriate education or are suspended from school.
This includes filing legal complaints, attending meetings and assessing the appropriateness of a student’s educational program. At the clinic, my colleagues and I have seen firsthand the disparities in the treatment and resources provided by schools. And often, I have seen that suspension of young black students begins as early as kindergarten.
Educational inequities for black kids
Our educational system continues to fail children of color.
Research shows that black males are disproportionately more likely to be placed in special education and classified as mentally retarded and emotionally disturbed.
They are also more likely to be placed in segregated placements, more likely to be educated in poorly performing schools and more likely to be referred to the juvenile justice system for infractions that occur in school.
They are also the least likely to be provided the positive supports and the assistance that they need in order to succeed.
None of this is new.
Children of color have historically been subjected to educational inequities. After the landmark decision of Brown v Board of Education in 1954, where the Supreme Court held that it was unconstitutional to maintain segregated schools, practices and policies were developed to maintain segregated settings.
States in the South refused to comply with Brown, while other parts of the country developed practices such as IQ testing and tracking students into specific programs that often kept children of color in different classes from their white counterparts.
The Children’s Defense Fund (CDF), headed by Marian Wright Edelman, was one of the first organizations to look at the disparities in access to education. In its groundbreaking report in 1975, “School Suspensions: Are They Helping Children?,” the CDF analyzed the reports submitted to the Office of Civil Rights.
Although black students accounted for 27.1% of the students enrolled in the school districts reporting to the Office of Civil Rights in the 1972-73 school year, the report found that they made up 42.3% of the racially identified suspensions.
At the high school level, black students were suspended at more than three times the rate of white students: 12.5% versus 4.1%.
Persistent patterns of suspensions
These inequities in suspensions and removal from school continue to persist.
In recent times, the term “school-to-prison pipeline” is often used to describe systemic practices that ultimately lead students of color into the criminal justice system. These policies often cause the suspension or removal and sometimes the arrest of students from school for nonviolent or minor violations.”