Black children excluded from school more often than White counterparts

A result of zero tolerance, ‘willful defiance’ By

Merdies Hayes | 4/3/2014, midnight
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U.S. Attorney General Eric Holder responded to the report by pointing out persistent “preconceptions” that people have of minority children and suggested teachers be given cultural sensitivity training.

“Effective school discipline will always be a necessity,” Holder said. “Schools must be safe...but a routine school discipline infraction should land a student at the principal’s office at worst, not a police precinct.”

In 2000, 17 states had enacted laws concerning mandatory expulsions for drugs and alcohol possession; 12 states expelled students for disobedience (often referred to as “willful defiance”); 10 states expelled students for assaults against other students; eight states expelled students for vandalism; and six states expelled students for verbal threats. All of these directives stem loosely from the Gun Free Schools Act that mandates that all states that receive federal funds must expel students for no less than one year, who are found with a weapon (gun, grenade, rocket, bomb, missile or mine).

The definition of “weapon” is now so broad that it has been known to include key chains, butter knives, nail clippers...even drinking straws. “Drugs” now include prescription drugs, over-the-counter medications like ibuprofen, aspirin, cough drops, and breath mints like “Certs.” Because the concept of zero tolerance means enacting harsh punishment regardless of the degree of severity for the offense, some schools do not take the time to determine the circumstances of the event on a case-by-case basis. Many school districts do not take into consideration the age of the child. Therefore, a first-grader whose mother packs a plastic butter knife into his/her lunch box is just as likely to be expelled as a 10th grader packing a switchblade.

During the Los Angeles Unified School District (LAUSD) 2010-11 school year, 26 percent of those suspended for violating the “willful defiance” standard were Black children who comprise nine percent of the student population. The term willful defiance for the past 20 years has become a subjective “catch-all” determination for such behavior as refusing to remove a cap in class, not turning off a cell phone when asked, “provocative” dress including hairstyles and/or refusing to wear a school uniform, as well as a so-called aggressive or demonstrative behavior unfavored by a specific instructor or school administrator.

The LAUSD voted in May 2013 to abandon willful defiance in correcting its young people, opting to return to more practical measures of discipline. Superintendent John Deasy told the board that students will be suspended if they regularly demonstrate behavior that threatens the welfare of others, but keeping students out of school for failing to bring a pen and paper or other acts considered “defiant” could ultimately push them away from school and into the arms of the law.

“We want to be part of graduating, not incarcerating students,” Deasy said.

In 2007, the Center for Educational Performance and Information revealed that 1,528 students were expelled in Michigan for the 2005-2006 school year. The reasons ranged from violence, dangerous weapons, banned substances, prohibited behavior and biased incidents varying from hairstyles to “inappropriate” apparel. The study delved further and discovered that “violence” included name calling as “verbal assault.” A second study conducted in Connecticut found that, in Kindergarten alone, the rate of suspensions and expulsions almost doubled over a two-year period, (from 463 in the 2006-2007 school year to 901 reported for the 2008-2009 school year).