School Discipline Reform Zero Tolerance and School Discipline

Op-Ed: School Suspensions Don’t Just Unfairly Penalize Black Students – They Lead to Lower Grades and ‘Black Flight’

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Written by WLA Guest

By Charles Bell, The Conversation

School suspensions are intended to deter violence and punish students who demonstrate problematic behavior.

Yet, when I interviewed 30 Black high school students in southeast Michigan who had been suspended from school and 30 of their parents, I learned that many students were suspended because school officials misinterpreted their behaviors. Additionally, the suspensions led to students’ grades dropping significantly and to some parents withdrawing their children from their school districts.

I published my findings in the Children and Youth Services Review and Urban Education journals as part of my ongoing research on how Black students and parents view school punishment and its impact on their daily lives.

You might assume that these punitive disciplinary practices have stopped since so many children are not physically in school due to the COVID-19 pandemic. You would be wrong. News reports show that suspensions have continued throughout the pandemic, while children are attending school remotely from their homes.

For example, in September, school officials suspended 9-year-old Louisiana student Ka’Mauri Harrison for six days because he placed a BB gun on a shelf in his room after one of his siblings tripped over it during virtual learning. In other incidents, such as when 12-year-old Isaiah Elliot played with a toy gun during virtual art class, school officials sent law enforcement officers to his home – terrifying everyone in their household. Although these cases attracted considerable media attention, I believe most do not.

Collectively, these instances of unwarranted school punishment raise important questions about their impact on millions of individuals – particularly Black students and parents. The most recent data shows Black students represent 15% of K-12 public school students in the U.S. but receive 39% of school suspensions.

Students and parents silenced

In one interview after another, students told me they were denied the opportunity to explain their side, which could have led school officials to determine a suspension was unnecessary. Parents also said educators and administrators ignored them throughout the disciplinary process.

For example, Sandra, a ninth grader, received a five-day suspension for deescalating a fight between peers.

“I feel like they didn’t hear me out,” she said. “I told my mom and my dad and they was like, ‘Yeah, I don’t see why they suspended you.’ … [T]he [school officials] was like, ‘We feel like you threatened her.’ I’m like, ‘I didn’t, and the girl even said I didn’t threaten her.’ When I came back to school she was like, ‘Why did you get suspended?’ and I was like, ‘[Because] they said I threatened you,’ and she was like, ‘How did you threaten me?’ I’m like, exactly. So, I just felt like they should have listened to me and let me explain the whole situation.”

Mike’s daughter Kimberly, a ninth grade student, received a five-day suspension for hugging a boy.

“To suspend a child for five days for giving a person a hug is ridiculous,” he said. “I raised my voice about it many times. Their policies around suspension are very unnecessary.”

Grades declined

Students also told me their achievement declined by as much as two letter grades due to suspensions. Students and parents attributed the academic declines to missing high-point-value assignments, experiencing difficulty catching up, missing vital instruction and educators’ unwillingness to distribute makeup assignments to suspended students.

“[School discipline] affected my grades a lot,” said Marcus, a 10th grade student who received a 39-day suspension after he punched a gated window in response to his teacher calling him a “failure.” “I go up there to get my work, but it’s hard to do the work when you are outside of school. You get where you’re not receiving the proper guidance to do the work.”

Tangie’s 10th grade son received a 10-day suspension for defending himself after several gang members attacked him at school.

“I was going back up to the school every other day, fighting to get his makeup work from the teachers,” she said. “I kept calling and calling, and finally I ended up taking him to [a new school], which is terrible. But I had to because his teachers would not give me the damn work.”

Black educational flight

Several parents told me that excessive school suspensions motivated them to remove their child from a school district.

Lisa’s son, a 10th grader, borrowed a cellphone from a classmate. Then another student stole the cellphone from him. In response, school officials handcuffed him to a railing, suspended him for five days, and referred the case to the local prosecutor.

“I just feel at that time they failed him,” she told me. “He is asking to be transferred so I am looking into another school for him.”

Patrice met with school officials after her son was diagnosed with attention deficit hyperactivity disorder in order to create an individualized education plan for him. Although school officials created the plan, she said, they didn’t implement it. Instead, they continued to suspend him.

“He is going to another school this year,” she said. “How are you going to have an IEP and not follow through with what’s on the IEP? That’s a big issue! It’s just a lack of communication and too much suspension.”

Rethinking school discipline

My findings suggest that schools should use alternatives to school suspensions. They also suggest that teachers should be required to distribute assignments to students who receive suspensions, and consider using virtual learning to reduce the negative impact of suspensions on student achievement.

Schools should also better understand how students and parents view school discipline and involve them in establishing school rules. Students changing schools is a major concern for administrators, and my study shows excessive school discipline motivates Black families to leave a district.

Discipline transparency

Several states, such as Michigan and Illinois, have passed school discipline reforms to reduce suspension rates. However, the data I collected, which will be featured in my upcoming book “Code of the School,” suggests the discipline reforms have been ineffective in some districts because school suspension data is not publicly available.

School discipline data that is anonymous and separated by race, gender, disability and infraction type should be published annually on the district’s website. Without school discipline transparency, parents and legislators cannot hold school districts accountable for the disciplinary reforms. I am working with Michigan legislators to resolve this issue.


Charles Bell, Ph.D. is an assistant professor in the Department of Criminal Justice Sciences at Illinois State University.

This article is republished from The Conversation under a Creative Commons license. Read the original article.

Photo by bantersnaps on UnsplashThe Conversation

14 Comments

  • I presume that the school system(s) are made up of Blacks only and presumably, is the only ethnic group which gets suspended?

    Bullshit article by a bullshit writer who jumped on the racism bandwagon.

  • Fat Rolman, no, the systems is not made up of Blacks only and they are not the only ethnic group getting suspended. They are, however, disproportionately suspended relative to white kids, for example. All things equal, black kids will get suspended more often than white kids. You know that. The literature is clear. So, the only bullshitter writing here is you.

    Does it sting that Mr. Bell, a black man, has a PhD and teaches at the university level while you are a glorified security guard riding around looking for black kids to harass? Does it anger you when you imagine the respect he commands while you drive around getting the middle finger from kids, even white ones? No doubt people address him as professor, while they address you as….. Well, you know what they call you. Be honest, it stings.

    How are we doing with that Make America Great Again project?

    • Were you expecting anything less from commentor “pat rolman” being the first to say something but the last one to know/relate.

    • @cf….I see that my post aroused your insatiable desire to come out of your hole and begin to spew your one sided, idiotic, distorted opinion on why some Black folks are being mistreated.

      As I stated previously, you have no clue as to what I do or how I do it. However, I did extend an invitation to meet you anywhere and at anytime. Nonetheless, I see that you have not RSVP’d. Just like a typical LibTurd.

      By the way the Make America Great Again project, is going just fine!

  • Black kids might be better behaved in school if they had better role models at home. Maybe if Black dads bothered to stick around we wouldn’t have so many problems with the behavior of Black youths, especially young Black males, that we do in our schools. Look around the internet and see how many videos you can find of White kids, Asian kids or even Hispanic kids acting out violently in schools as you can Black kids. It’s not even a contest and most often warnings are given prior to suspensions unless the violation is so severe there’s no choice but to get rid of the offending student. Victims mean nothing to SJW, I get that, no victims of color get any love here, only those who harm them, you people love the bad boys and girls. I love to see them locked up. You are all a bunch of frauds. You don’t care how many minorities are seriously injured or killed, not one damn bit. CF never says a word about them and the articles here about their pain, guess I’ve missed them.

  • Let them fight!
    Author teaches in Illinois so it’s no surprise.
    Let them fight!
    Chicago style. Take down the metal detectors.
    No cops near campus.
    Let them bring guns and go to work on each other.
    Anything less would be racist and not Chicago worthy.

  • I don’t know anyone personally that doesn’t believe every child should have access to a quality education. But, as usual, the SJW’s avoid speaking on the violence so prevalent in the Black community. That issue and how to combat it is absent from their conversation continually. The answer, blame the police, systemic racism and Whitey. Never the perpetrators of the violence, they’re victims no matter what they do or who they harm.

  • Patrolman, or Pat Rolman, no need to get ghetto, or is it trailer, with your threats. No doubt that is what you tell black kids that talk back to you. Your colors as an angry brute are showing. If that is how you were as an officer, you must have been a fine officer going around threatening people. I doubt you sent Mr. Dorner a similar invitation to meet. That black man would have been too scary for you and he would have taken you up on your offer. Now, go patrol some parking lot and harass kids that wont call you out on your BS.

    Fifi- Most of what I say is on behalf of victims of color. You do not like it because many times they are your victims or victims of the fine portly men in uniform. They are the same people ReaLoL hopes will get their ass kicked in Chicago, one does the ass kicking the other is the victim. But, alas, to you and ReaLOL and Fatrolman, they are all just blacks and worthy only of contempt. Take your crocodile tears elsewhere. No one believes you gentlemen care about anyone black, except perhaps Clarence Thomas and Candace Owens.

    • Most of what you say is insults directed at cops, stfu with your obvious lies Little Guy, it gets you nowhere. You are the board racist and clown, nothing more.

  • CF: Amazing how those poor blacks kids are disproportionally suspended in relation to white kids. Sounds familiar doesn’t it? Kinda like how blacks make up only 13% of the population but are responsible for approx 40% of the arrests nationwide each year. Dam us cops just need to arrest more white folk right? What more whites are arrested each year than blacks. Hmmm. I guess we just can’t make u happy CF unless we stop suspending and arresting black folks. We’re heading in that direction anyways with BLM. So be happy and stop bitching.

  • More Black men are arrested than whites so all cops must be racist.

    More black students are suspended than whites so all teacher must be racist.

    More black people die of Covid 19 than white so all Doctors and nurses must be racist.

    For those who can, do everything to put your kids in private schools or move to a suburban school district. You only have one chance to educate your kids. You can not leave it up to these social justice warriors to balance the needs of all students. You must make your kids they priority. Good luck…

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