Courtesy of USA Today
The suspension disparity is magnified in some “hot spot” cities.
Black students are suspended more than three times as often as their white classmates, twice as often as their Latino classmates and more than 10 times as often as their Asian classmates in middle and high schools nationwide, a new study shows.
The average American secondary student has an 11% chance of being suspended in a single school year, according to the study from the University of California-Los Angeles Civil Rights project. However, if that student is black, the odds of suspension jump to 24%.
Previous studies have shown that even a single suspension can double a student’s odds of dropping out, said Daniel Losen, a former Boston-area teacher and one of the authors of “Out of School & Off Track: The Overuse of Suspensions in American Middle and High Schools,” released in April. The study used U.S. Department of Education data collected during the 2009-2010 school year, the latest available.
“Pointing fingers and using the ‘racism’ word isn’t going to get us where we need to go,” said Losen, who is white. “But I think we need to acknowledge that there may be general bias against black students.”
The UCLA study compares this new data with a similar study of more than 2,800 districts from the early 1970s. Back then a study by the Children’s Defense Fund showed that black students were suspended more frequently than their peers, but not at such a disproportionate rate.
Today, the suspension disparity is magnified in some “hot spot” cities – such as Chicago, Dallas, Memphis and St. Louis, Losen said. In these city school districts, at least 40% of all black students were suspended at least once during that school year, according to the UCLA study. And yet, some schools in those same cities barely suspended students at all, Losen said.
“A lot of the time the public has a sense that we have to suspend these ‘bad’ kids – what else are we going to do?” Losen said. “But this study shows that within the same district, within the same demographics, there are schools that are doing things very differently.”
The suspension disparity has recently come to a head in Florida, where the NAACP has filed a complaint against public schools in Brevard County, which suspends its black students about two-and-a-half times as often as its white students. The U.S. Department of Education has agreed to look into the complaint.
Lynne Bleier, a retired assistant principal and dean who worked at two Bevard County high schools, said suspension decisions are based purely on the behavior of each student.
“Believe me, there is plenty of misbehavior,” Bleier said. “No assistant principal has to seek misbehavior where it does not exist.”