A recent study by the Yale University Child Study Center shows that Black children — especially boys — no matter their family income, receive less attention, harsher punishment and lower marks in school than their White counterparts from kindergarten all the way through college. A subsequent article published in “The Washington Post” reported that Black children in the Washington, D.C. area are suspended or expelled two to five times more often than White children. It’s a national trend that needs to be addressed.
Judith Browne Dianis, co-director of the Advancement Project joined Roland Martin on Washington Watch to discuss this disturbing trend.
MR. MARTIN: This is amazing. One school district, 71 percent of suspensions handed out for insubordination were given to Black students?
MS. DIANIS: That’s right. I mean this is a national trend. We – we call it the “schoolhouse to jailhouse” track. Our children, especially African-American children, are being suspended at alarming rates. Over 3.1 million kids are suspended every year. Even worse, they’re being arrested in school. In Florida, for example, over 21,000 kids are arrested in a year. But when we look at this, this is not about safety. It’s not about bad things that kids are doing. Sixty-nine percent of those arrests were for misdemeanors, so these are subjective things that our kids are getting caught up in the system for.
MR. MARTIN: What is the basis of the suspensions?
MS. DIANIS: Well, many of the suspensions are for things like dress code violations. You get a day out of school. Being late for school, cutting school. You actually can get a suspension for cutting school. There was a story recently in North Carolina where a fourth grader said to a friend of his, “Our teacher is cute.” He got suspended for sexual harassment. This is the kind of, you know, thing that is happening across the country. Our schools are not using common sense when it comes to the behavior of children.
MR. MARTIN: But, clearly, there’s a difference between White kids and Black kids, so what explains this racial disparity?
MS. DIANIS: Well, the racial disparity’s explained by a number of things, one of which is the perception – especially of Black boys in classrooms – that they’re too active, that they talk out of turn, that they’re unruly. Those are perceptions that teachers carry into the classroom.
MR. MARTIN: Now, I’m a firm believer of the role of parents; and, certainly, I believe that teachers have a responsibility, and administrators have a responsibility –
MS. DIANIS: Right.
MR. MARTIN: — but parents do as well. And so –
MS. DIANIS: Right.
MR. MARTIN: — what is their role in this? I mean the kid gets a violation for dress code. You know, somebody leaving the home should unders- — somebody at home should say, “Look. This is how you’re supposed to walk out of the house.”
MS. DIANIS: Right. Well, the – I mean parents do have a role in this, and what – what we really need to have happen is that there has to be a school-parent partnership – right? So, if my child walks out to school without their uniform, what should happen is I get a call home – not that my kid gets sent home – because when they get sent home, they’re going to fall behind academically. They’re going to fail. They’re more likely to drop out, and they’re more likely to be in the juvenile justice system.
MR. MARTIN: What are some of the other solutions out there to deal with this problem?
MS. DIANIS: Right. So, there – there’s – there really is a lot of great work going on around this issue. Actually, Advancement Project worked with the Baltimore City Schools, and we were actually – we rewrote their discipline code. Right now, their suspensions are down by 65 percent. Graduation rates are up – because we took the subjectivity out of it, and the school put in counselors. That’s what some of these kids need – are counselors, someone to talk to, to walk them through the day. We need common sense in the schools, and we really are making a difference. In Denver, we’ve seen the suspensions come down by 64 percent also, where – another place where we’ve actually rewritten the discipline code to put common sense back into it.
MR. MARTIN: Wow! Who knew that common sense was uncommon these days?
MS. DIANIS: How ’bout that? [Chuckles.]
MR. MARTIN: Judith, we certainly appreciate it. Thanks a bunch.