Study: For Behavioral Problems, Black Students See Cops, Whites See Docs

By Kenrya Rankin Jul 28, 2015

A study in the latest issue of Sociology of Education found what many parents already know: When black students exhibit behavioral problems at school, administrators are more likely to call the police than to secure medical interventions. In fact, the study found that the more black students who attend a school, the more likely the people in charge are to call the police, rather than a doctor. It also revealed that schools with larger populations of black students have overall higher suspension rates, while their whiter counterparts had more kids enrolled in special needs programs. Schools with large Hispanic populations were less likely to call the either the police or a doctor.

Conducted by David Ramey, assistant professor of sociology and criminology at Pennsylvania State University, "The Social Structure of Criminalized and Medicalized School Discipline" combed through data from 60,000 schools in 6,000+ American school districts to examine the rate at which children are suspended, expelled and referred to the police, as well as how many students are enrolled in programs designed to assist students with special needs, in particular the Individuals with Disabilities Education Act and Section 504 of the Rehabilitation Act of 1973.

The results were as clear as black and white, and Ramsey says the ways schools are governed play a part. "Schools in high disadvantaged districts tend to be centralized, so all the schools in that district tend to develop the same practices. Schools that are in less disadvantaged districts tend to have more autonomy," he said in a press release. "There’s been a real push toward school safety and there’s been a real push for schools to show they are being accountable. But, any zero-tolerance policy or mandatory top-down solutions might be undermining what would be otherwise good efforts at discipline, and not establishing an environment based around all the options available."

A disadvantaged district is defined as having low median income, low graduation rate, more households headed by single mothers, and high unemployment and underemployment. Ramsey told Huffington Post that smaller budgets in predominantly black schools could make them less likely to pursue expensive special education services.