03/21/2014

African-American children are bearing brunt of misguided school discipline policies

I hope you saw the news today about important new Department of Education data on the crisis that’s playing out in our public schools.

Here’s the bottom line: African-American children are three times more likely to be suspended and expelled from school than their white peers.

Of course, this comes as no surprise. We’ve been fighting the “school-to-prison pipeline” for years, bringing case after case to reform “zero tolerance” policies that amount to a war on our nation’s children.

Outrageously, many children pushed out of school are sent into juvenile lockups for trivial offenses. Too often, they’re traumatized, brutalized, isolated and neglected in these facilities.

The message we send to them is that no one cares.

And for what? In a great number of cases, they’ve done nothing but violate school rules.

In one of our cases, a student in Mobile County, Alabama, was suspended for 50 days because his shirt was untucked. In another, a 14-year-old in Meridian, Mississippi, spent several days locked up because he had too many pockets on his pants.

We need to do better for our children – and for our country’s future.

We must keep children in the classroom and stop criminalizing typical adolescent behavior. We must work harder to create safe, nurturing learning environments. And, yes, we must recognize and combat the insidious role of racial bias in school discipline.

On May 17, our nation will mark the 60th anniversary of Brown v. Board, the landmark Supreme Court decision that outlawed school segregation.

There’s much to celebrate.

But, as this data shows, even after six decades, traces of Jim Crow segregation continue to linger. And it’s devastating to African-American communities, who see their children’s futures cast aside as they are earmarked for dropout and incarceration.

We can do better. For all of our children’s sake, we must.