African-American and Latino Students Overrepresented in School Suspensions

It looks like zero tolerance applies only to some of us.

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The Southern Poverty Law Center has released findings of a study of out-of-school suspension rates for 18 of the nation's largest school systems. Black and Latino students were overrepresented among students given these suspensions. Since the 1970s, the rates of out-of-school suspensions have escalated because of zero-tolerance policies implemented by school systems. K-12 suspension rates have at least doubled for all nonwhites during that time. The study, which focused on middle schools, found that the racial gap in suspension has grown considerably since 1973, especially for African-American students. The black-white gap has grown from three percentage points in the '70s to more than 10 percentage points in the 2000s. Blacks are now more than three times more likely than whites to be suspended.

While the average suspension rate was 11.2 percent in 2006 in the middle schools surveyed, disaggregating the data by race and gender reveals great disparities in the use of out-of-school suspension. For example, for middle-school blacks, 28.3 percent of males and 18 percent of females were suspended. In Palm Beach County, Fla., and Milwaukee, the districtwide middle-school suspension rate for black males exceeded 50 percent. The suspension rate for black females exceeded 50 percent in Milwaukee and was over 33 percent in Palm Beach County, Indianapolis and Des Moines, Iowa.

We could go on, but we'll stop. We're sure that the racial makeup of the schools has something to do with the numbers, and we'd be interested in knowing if they were able to disaggregate the numbers based on offense committed, but still. This sounds like prison prep to us. Why do these numbers correlate with disparities in prison sentencing for blacks and Latinos? To add insult to injury, research shows that removing people from the classroom does not result in better productivity and learning outcomes for students in the classroom. Guess who is getting suspended more often? Black females. Shouldn't there be a zero-tolerance policy against targeting black and brown middle-school children for out-of-school suspension? We're just saying.

Read more about the study at the SPLCenter.org. Read the findings here.