Out of school and out of luck


Get suspended in ninth grade, and your chances of dropping out of school double, according to a report issued this week by the UCLA Civil Rights Project. That’s true even though “the vast majority of suspensions are for minor infractions of school rules, such as  disrupting class, tardiness, and dress code violations, rather than for serious violent or criminal behavior.” Forty years ago, suspension rates for African American students were almost double the rates for white students — and the disparity has gotten much worse since then.

The rates are also higher for Latinos, for English Language Learners, and for students with disabilities. Hit the trifecta, and you’re really in trouble: “The highest rates were observed when the intersection of race, disability, and gender was calculated; for example, 36% of all Black middle school males with disabilities were suspended one or more times.”

Those are the national numbers. The report also analyzed 20 cities in depth, including St. Paul. In St. Paul, the report said, “the gap between Black and White students ranged between 7 points for elementary students without disabilities to 38 points for students with disabilities at the secondary level.” At that level, 23 percent of Black females and 37 percent of Black males had been suspended at least once, though only 14 percent of all students had been suspended once.

Even worse, the author of the report told MPR’s Laura Yuen,

“… two-thirds of [black boys with disabilities] enrolled in St. Paul middle or high schools were suspended at least once.

“Nationally their rate is 36 percent, which is horrific. So to be almost double the national average is certainly way out there,” Losen said.

Yuen also looked at Minneapolis schools, though they were not analyzed in the UCLA report. She reported that nearly 14 percent of African American students in Minneapolis were suspended last year:

The vast majority of students receiving suspensions are African-Americans, who are nearly seven times as likely as white students to be pulled from school. And the rates for American Indians are not much better (see chart).

Is it plausible that black students are that much worse-behaved than white students? Minneapolis Public School Superintendent Bernadeia Johnson doesn’t think so. She told Yuen:

 I’ve seen students who are outspoken and opinionated. From one child, it’s seen as ‘disrespectful,’ and for another child, ‘precocious.’ … One of the things we’re trying to do is get to those types of ways people think about students. It’s really about reshaping our adult mindset as well as shaping students’ behaviors.

Read all three of Laura Yuen’s articles. 

• Report details St. Paul school suspensions
• Mpls tackles high rate of African-American school suspensions
• Q&A: Mpls superintendent on reducing school suspensions

Take a look at the national report — Out of school and off track: The overuse of suspensions in American middle and high schools

This is desperately important information, and a tragedy that must be reversed. We are the village and all of our children need us.