Friday, December 06, 2019

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Article Index

C. Disproportionate Suspensions and Expulsions

Numerous educational studies and school district records support the conclusion that minority students in public schools throughout the country are disproportionately suspended and expelled from school. Even long before high school, African-American males are *20 disproportionately suspended from pre-school and kindergarten. This trend continues throughout the African-American males' educational experience. A study by the National Center for Education Statistics reported that [i]n 1999, 35 percent of Black students in grades 7 through 12 had been suspended or expelled at some point in their school careers, higher than the 20 percent of Hispanics and 15 percent of Whites.

Not only are African-American males disproportionately suspended, often their suspensions are more severe than those of other students. The Brown decision eliminated de jure segregation and forced schools to desegregate, but Brown failed to protect African-American males from disproportionate suspension in predominantly white schools.

When school districts report suspension and expulsion by sub-groups, African-American males will be among the highest group suspended and expelled. For example, African-American males represent more than 20% of students expelled and 23% suspended, even though they represent less than 9% of students in high school. Even more telling is a review of specific cities and states. In the school year 1997-1998, African-American males made up 45% of the long-term suspensions in North Carolina schools even though they only represented 16% of state enrollment. Moreover, the expulsion rate of African-American males in North Carolina was 52%.

*21 Whether the school district is located in the South, North, or West, African-American male students will be at the top of the statistical data for school suspensions and expulsions. The disproportionate rate of suspensions and expulsions of African-American males may violate state constitutional provisions, which often require a fundamental right to an education. Such practices may also violate Title VI of the Civil Rights Act of 1964. There is no definitive study which explains why African-American males are disproportionately suspended and expelled from school; however, in Hawkins v. Coleman, the court determined that African-American students were disproportionately suspended because of institutional racism. Although, in Hoots v. Pennsylvania, the federal court released the school district from judicial supervision in the area of discipline, even though African-American students were disproportionately disciplined.

Unfortunately, school districts still intentionally or unintentionally rely on discriminatory factors in administrating disciplinary actions. There are a number of indicators that have been identified as having a *22 negative impact on African-American males. For example, the disproportionate number of African-American males suspended or expelled may be the result of race, plus gender, stereotyping. The issue of stereotyping was alleged in Fuller v. Decatur Public School Board of Education. In Fuller, six high school age African-American male students were expelled for fighting at a football game. The students alleged that they were expelled because they were stereotyped as gang members and racially profiled by the actions of the School Board. Similarly, in Lee v. Butler County Board of Education, testimony was presented that African-American males were being disproportionately disciplined. Nevertheless, the court granted the school board's motion to declare the school system a unitary status, thus ending the school desegregation litigation. The court accepted the superintendent's testimony that the school was primarily African-American, but failed to explore the race plus sex theory. The courts failed to determine whether African-American males were disproportionately receiving more disciplinary actions, as well as more severe disciplinary actions, than any other group. For example, African-American males received more disciplinary actions than African-American female students for the same infractions. School districts should be mandated by the United States Department of Education to analyze suspensions and expulsion data according to race plus gender. This would determine whether African-American males are disproportionately receiving disciplinary actions in schools.

The disproportionate numbers of African-American males suspended and expelled from school also has a direct impact on the disproportionate numbers of African-American males in the juvenile court system, low graduation rates, low grades, and their motivation to remain in school. School districts have a moral and legal obligation to develop alternatives to reduce the suspension and expulsion rate of African-American males from schools.

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