Between 1972 and 2006, suspension rates for students of color doubled, according to a November 2013 study by the Center for Law and Social Policy (CLASP). During this same time period, the gap in suspensions between African American students and white students more than tripled.
Suspensions, expulsions and school arrests affect boys of color at a far higher rate than their peers, according to the report by CLASP, a nonpartisan organization that advocates, develops new ideas, and mobilizes government officials to benefit low income people in the U.S.
Though African-American boys represent 18 percent of the student population in the U.S., they make up 35 percent of students receiving out-of-school suspensions once during their education, 46 percent of students receiving multiple out-of-school suspensions and 39 percent of those receiving expulsions.
The report details “zero-tolerance” discipline policies and highlights instances in a Philadelphia school district where a ninth-grade boy was handcuffed to a chair, arrested and sent to an alternative school because he forgot about a butter knife in his backpack. In another case, an eighth-grade honors student was sent to an alternative school on a weapons offense when she scratched a male classmate with her pen.
The report also examines how harsh discipline policies damage the school climate and harm the futures of suspended students by punishing them with unsupervised idle time that increases the chance of dropping out.
Instead of suspensions and expulsions, the report advocates for restorative practices that give students a chance to right their wrong and still be included in the community. The report also highlights Positive Behavior Interventions and Supports, (PBIS) – a model that incorporates consistent rewards for good behavior and consequences for bad behavior – to encourage students to stay out of trouble.
Public Schools in Baltimore City and Denver have eliminated harsh discipline policies and experienced positive results. Since abandoning zero-tolerance, the Baltimore has cut its dropout rate by more than half. Other schools and districts have also begun to implement similar policies.
The report pools data from sources like the Advancement Project, Youth United for Change, Justice Policy Institute and the Civil Rights Project/Proyecto Derechos Civiles at the University of California, Los Angeles.
Read the full report.