Does Color Matter

According to the 14th Amendment to the United States Constitution, a person cannot be denied equal protection under the law. This guarantees every student the right to a free public education. Every student is guaranteed the right, but not all kids are necessarily afforded the same opportunity, as their behavior may hinder their ability to stay in the classroom. Students with behavior issues are often removed from positive classroom learning environments and given in-school suspensions, out-of-school suspensions, or may face expulsions, but is the school justice system color-blind?

In 2014, the United States Department of Education conducted research on school discipline and the data indicates students of color are disproportionately punished at school. Starting at a very early age. In preschool, even though black students make up 18% of the population, they represent 48% of the students suspended. Many may try to explain that “those kids” are just louder than the other children and therefore are more often seen behaving poorly.

We can look at the national numbers and they are disturbing, but when looking at the data that can be found on the Florida EdStats site it shows Florida mirrors national data. As it trickles down to the Polk County School District, the district in which I teach, it is much of the same.

When the data is further broken down and gender is added into the equation, it shows black girls are 7 times more likely to be suspended than white girls. The Huffington Post broke down the data by region of the United States and found in the Mid-West region of the United States this group is suspended at ten times higher rate. This data interpretation was conducted by the National Black Women’s Justice Institute. The data illustrates there is a problem with how students are disciplined at school, but what is not apparent is why this is happening.

Monique Morris has written a book entitled Pushout: The Criminalization of Black Girls in Schools in which she delves deeper into why black female students are punished more frequently and harshly than other students. In an article in the Atlantic, Morris goes into detail about how black females are treated differently and the data backs her claims. Even though black female students account for 16% of the student population they account for more than 40% of the behavior referrals. When faced with data like this it is difficult to look the other way and ignore the issue.

Due to the data that shows how students of color are treated in school, many educational institutions are now working hard to make positive changes. In the Syracuse School District they have opted to install a restorative justice practice that focuses on building community and conflict resolution. These practices are alternatives to in-school and out-of-school suspensions.

By implementing methods that focus on improving behavior without having students miss valuable instructional time enables students to be successful learners. Ensuring that students stay in the classroom and can learn as much as possible helps give them a bright future. Many students who are suspended drop out of school, which hurts their potential – and society as a whole. Thus, it’s important for educational institutions to try and keep students in the classroom as much as possible.

The real question is what are we going to do about it?

What are your experiences?

Please share your thoughts.

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