How Often Was Your Child Suspended From School?

The stats are here! Parents, schools and the general public can finally see exactly how often and how many of their children were suspended from school. These are U.S. public schools. By state, the public can view the ratio of suspensions by race. The results are disappointing, but expected in recognition of the problematic perspectives and unjust practices of law enforcement personnel around the country, specifically as it pertains to engaging people of color. Criminal first, guilty by default and ever-threatening to the innocent white people of America. One caveat to everyone is that the statistics reflect numbers from the 2013-2014 academic school year.

The numbers should come as no real surprise to anyone, because this is America, and we know all too well about what plagues our society. Therefore, we should take this data as confirmation of that which we already suspected. African-American students are suspended from school at staggering and appalling rates as opposed to white children and everyone else.

Who could dare say that there is no evidence of a systemic racial problem in this country. The numbers continue to tell the truth. We could say that the disparities are evident in certain states only, but that would be untrue. Every state produces equally disturbing numbers. Before we see some examples of what happens in public schools around the 50 states, let’s chat a little.

If you feel that education- school climates and cultures– represents the society of the future, the society we wish to see, then that would be wrong. However, your opinion is respected. Sadly, education and its framework curriculum is still grounded in the past, when it should be designed as a futuristic community. Education is supposed to prepare children for life in the future, as the disruptive force in our society. The focus IS the future. In preparation for the future, one assumes that the past is taught, fully explored, critically examined and understood. Otherwise, how do we know that we are moving forward?

In exploration of the past, the present is also examined, looking for a connection. The information helps to better understand how to plan for tomorrow. It enables young people to envision changes in the world- kinder, gentler, more collaborative.

Schools should not mirror today’s climate, but present windows into tomorrow. The problems of discrimination, racism, implicit bias and micro-aggression, inequity, disparities, and injustice are not to be expected within the learning setting.

Schools are supposed to be safe spaces that motivate and challenge, inspire and affirm, inform and encourage. They are supposed to reflect places that every child should be able to learn absent trauma, unencumbered and un-bothered by violence, abuse, neglect, and deficiency views. Children should feel safe from any harm. It should be the one environment where they feel their most free and where they are not regarded as though they have nothing to contribute. It should be their happy place.

Children should feel excited and invigorated every day that they enter the buildings or log in for online learning. While we are in this transition period, where learning is either blended or remote or in-person, the framework of education needs to be re-visited to identify and revise that which works as originally intended. Any aspect of the school climate, culture, policy or practice that produces outcomes that align with original intent, must be re-designed.

Why do we insist on delivering instruction and sharing content explicitly and strategically selected for being palatable to white people’s appetite for truth? It was/is easier on the ego  to believe white supremacy is real and that the country was built and wealth accumulated by them alone. A myth is easier to digest and propagate when the truth in retrospect does not look or feel very good. That is how we got here today, caught up in a divisive, conflict-ridden society, ignorant of our own history.HANDS IN FACE

There is a quote that I appreciate that says, The survival of white people in America does/did not depend upon its knowledge of their history. Their survival required their ignorance of history.” 

It is that history that evidently is too ego-deflating, down to the very core and contradictory to their belief of supremacy over all others. The realization of the harm and atrocities at their doing, ancestrally and present, has caused so much push back against equity, and in particular,  public education. We teach about everything in public education except our full history, which if taught, would thus demand a more just democracy.

It is the very purpose of education to teach complete facts and indisputable truths in preparing children for the world and life as adults. That, in the U.S., is undesirable because the facts, unadulterated, will cause more harm to white people than the ‘other’. Therefore, it is far better to continue to harm the ‘other’, generation after generation. But that’s another article completely.

Let’s review some examples of the data about elementary and secondary grades public school suspensions from just a handful of states.

  • Alabama  All Students 8%  White  4.5%   Hispanic 3.0%     Black 15.2%    Asian 1.6%
  • Florida     All Students 5%   White 3.7%    Hispanic 3.9%     Black  9.9%    Asian  1.0%
  • Illinois      All Students  6.8%  White 2.9%  Hispanic 5.4%    Black  21.9%  Asian 0.9%
  • Iowa          All Students  2.6%  White 2.0%  Hispanic 3.0%    Black 11.0%   Asian  1.1%
  • New York  All Students 3.2%   White 2.7%  Hispanic 2.3%   Black 7.1%     Asian 0.5%
  • Wisconsin  All Students 4.0%  White  2.3%  Hispanic 4.2%   Black  17.0%  Asian0.8%
  • United States All Students 5.3%  White 3.4% Hispanic 4.3%  Black 13.7% Asian 1.1%

This data completely demonstrates issues on a systemic level, greater than the students, the schools themselves or the states producing these numbers. To the uninformed, the numbers indicate that in all 50 states, black children are the most disruptive, maladaptive and violent, requiring their formal education discontinued by out of school suspension.

In 2020, hopefully, the adults are more informed and enlightened. The benefit of being an educated professional, having gone to college, specializing in a concentrated area of study, and having acquired some basic statistical understanding, is that this allows a much deeper and coherent view. There are implications reflected in this data that says the systems are not working for these students.

The system does work, however. It works for white children, who happen to be the intended beneficiaries of public education from its inception. Six years after this data was compiled, offers ample time to reflect, revise and re-purpose strategies regarding discipline and disciplinary practices and policies. Therefore, the overall perception of black children will be altered accordingly. Their behaviors, attitudes, aptitude and their place in school communities requires critical examination. Empathy, not sympathy, encouragement and culturally responsive and affirming engagement ought to describe the school climate–in full alignment with disciplinary policies and practices.

time for change sign with led light

Must we start from scratch? Perhaps that would be most wise. Begin with defining the purpose of education as a purely constructed learning resource. This definition thereby will demand that education is not to be framed as a political weapon. Acquire a full comprehensive understanding of the role that schools play and the impact they have on the lives of the children who enter these environments. Futures are laid out right here, and most of all, the decisions made can have life-long effects on them, even into adulthood.

Learn who these children really are as individuals. Administrators, teachers and decision-makers need to  collectively embrace and meet their responsibilities to understand and learn the historical facts and backgrounds of the children with whom they engage everyday. They must be the first people who seek and obtain comprehensive truths about how and why they face challenges outside of the school building. Identify them.

Learn how they got there. Nothing in life happens in a vacuum. There are always external factors involved. Find out what they are. The pathway to empathy and understanding your populations is research. The answers will never be found in today’s textbooks. The answers are found in true journalistic fashion. Journalists seek answers that are not simply handed to them in books. They go deeper. They go outside of the obvious and immediately seen.

Journalists talk to others, look in places that ordinary and generally lazy people care not to go. They put in the work. Once you put in your work, you will understand your students better, and are better poised to develop meaningful relationships with them. You can identify their existing strengths, recognize barriers, and can address and anticipate their needs. You can better understand the messages they convey through behavior and you will see more clearly who these young people are. You will understand their families and want to engage with them and partner and empower them. You will also realize their strengths and power and honor them.

Before educators serve the very first day in their assigned learning environment, there should be a requirement that they learn the community, culture and traditions, and gain some understanding about their lived experiences. Cultural responsiveness must be mandated for teaching staff and support staff on an ongoing basis throughout their tenure. Learning about the community, getting the ‘feel’ of communities, cultivating partnerships with parents, community-based organizations, stores, parks and playgrounds and police.

In order to eliminate the disparities and the outcomes, especially because white educators dominate in school staff, there is work to be done. It is not to be seen as additional work, but required work. If we want to deliver and promote desired outcomes for ALL children, particularly black and brown, then educators must build their capacity to do so. Black children should not summarily outnumber every other group in suspensions in any school, no matter the location. The numbers, at their worse, should match their representation in the general population and at their best,  should always be lower than their representation in the general population.  It is completely unacceptable that these students are suspended at 4-5 times the rate of whites in public schools.

As the numbers stand, it does not look to be an issue of implicit bias, but incompetence and negligence on behalf of the adults who are responsible for all that happens in each environment. If there were such an entity as a ‘racism police’, how would your school staff and the outcomes measure up against an equity meter? Do you believe, as a collective, that fundamentally, all black kids are bad, disrespectful, disruptive and do not deserve the right to a necessary quality education in you school, district, state? That is the real question.

To see the chart of suspension rates for all 50 states( pg. 53} and read the full report with graphs outlining The State of America’s Children 2020,  click here.

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