Study: Black Students Suspended More For Small Infractions

Black students are more likely be suspended for using cell phones and offering public displays of affection, according to a new report from the National Education Policy Center.

By Jorge Rivas Oct 12, 2011

School suspensions for non-white students in grades K-12 have increased by more than 100 percent since 1970. That’s according to a recent report highlighted by

The report, "Discipline Policies, Successful Schools, and Racial Justice," was conducted by the National Education Policy Center. The report uses data from the U.S. Department of Education’s Civil Rights Office, along with figures collected under No Child Left Behind and a sampling of state education agencies to illustrate the widening disciplinary gap between students of color and their white counterparts.

The Root’s Joshua Weaver provides more details:

Daniel J. Losen of the Civil Rights Project at UCLA, who wrote the report in conjunction with the National Education Policy Center at the University of Colorado, sought to challenge a common misconception: "that some children — especially black children — simply misbehave more than others." In fact, according to the report, more than 30 percent of black students caught using, or in possession of, cellphones for the first time were suspended, while only 17 percent of white students who committed the same infraction were suspended.

Suspensions for public displays of affection represent a larger gap. Black students caught publicly canoodling for the first time were suspended at a rate three times higher than that of white students who were first-time PDA offenders.

What’s more, white students were disciplined most often for easily documented offenses, such as vandalism and use of explicit language, while black students were disproportionately disciplined for offenses that may have required more judgment on the part of the teacher, such as being disrespectful and being loud in class — suggesting that blacks may be singled out when it comes to more subjective infractions.

The report provides alternatives to suspensions and highlights states who actually put those alternatives into practice. Maryland, for example, passed a law in 2004 ordering that if suspensions reach 10 percent of an elementary school’s enrollment, the elementary school must engage in a Positive Behavioral Interventions and Support program.

The reports cites Connecticut legislation as the strongest example of state law that pushes back on zero- tolerance approaches. Connecticut law requires that schools employ in-school suspension for nearly every school code infraction when the violator does not continue to pose a threat to himself or others.

The complete report is available below and at the National Education Policy Center’s website.

NEPC School Discipline Losen 1 PB FINAL