- Faith & Family
Black boys and girls in public schools located in urban cities throughout the U.S. are in a state of crisis — losing valuable time in the classroom because of a disproportionate number of out-of-school suspensions. Based on a recent study, “Suspended Education: Urban Middle Schools in Crisis,” in many of the nation’s middle schools, Black boys were suspended almost three times more than white boys — Black girls were suspended four times the rate of white girls. The data was based on a federal study of four decades of suspensions and was drawn from 9,220 of the nation’s 16,000 public middle schools.
Now, on the heels of the murder of Trayvon Martin, the 17-year-old Krop Senior High located in North Miami-Dade County, who was away from school because of a 10-day suspension, officials from the County’s school board have launched a task force to examine their current disciplinary policies. School board member Dr. Dorothy Bendross-Mindingall says the Martin case served as the impetus to more carefully scrutinize the number of outdoor suspensions and the district’s stance.
“Superintendent Alberto Carvalho assembled this task force so that we could provide recommendations for improving the way we handle student suspensions,” she said. “Overrepresentation [of Black males] might be evidence for bias and prejudice but I know that the poverty that surrounds our predominantly-Black schools breeds numerous opportunities for young men to get into trouble. As a former principal, I know the amount of latitude we had in making the decision to suspend a child. The statistics would lead me to believe that Black males are not benefitting from that.”
Bendross-Mindingall has appointed former City Commissioner Richard P. Dunn and attorney Roderick Vereen to the task force because of their “experience in dealing with issues that affect District 2.”
Black students suffer most from extended suspensions
Bendross-Mindingall says the community needs to be involved in the creation of more innovative approaches to student discipline.
Vereen adds that it’s not just Blacks who are being hurt by current policies.
“I am more in favor of after-school suspensions because when students are sent home for extended periods of time, they often are unsupervised and have no adult figure or role model to monitor their behavior,” he said. “That means they have more opportunities to engage in inappropriate behavior. If Trayvon Martin had been in school, even held after school for the infractions he committed, he would not have been the victim of a senseless crime. Given my experience in the juvenile criminal justice system, I have seen just as many Hispanics as Blacks who are being prosecuted and direct filed [charged as adults]. It all starts from middle school or high school suspensions. In Florida we have boys as young as 14 who have been sentenced and sent to state prisons where there are hardened criminals. Those boys’ lives are destroyed forever. We cannot give up on our children.”
According to Bendross-Mindingall, the task force will review data documenting outdoor suspensions, propose alternatives and then present their findings to the school board in the near future. Then, “we will then bring this discussion to the community so they have the chance to voice their concerns,” she said.
Federal law requires schools to expel students for weapon possessions and incidents involving the most serious safety issues. But many suspensions, according to the report, were a result of fighting, abusive language and classroom disruptions — infractions that school administrators can apply at their discretion.
“These are kids, not adults, and there will always be certain kinds of disruptions and student ruckuses — our job is to find better ways to correct their behavior,” Vereen said. “The justice system is already overburdened — we need to create better in-roads to prepare them to be productive citizens.”
By D. Kevin McNeir