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  • Writer's pictureJoanne Jacobs

Discipline rules aren’t racist

Students Suspended from School Compared to Student Population, by Race, Sex, and Disability Status, School Year 2013-14

Black students are suspended at three times the rate of whites, according to a new Government Accountability Office report. In addition, special-education students and boys are much more likely to be suspended. Government Watchdog Finds Racial Bias in School Discipline was the New York Times headline.

Those statistics don’t prove that school discipline policies are racially biased, argues Gail Heriot, a law professor who serves on the U.S. Civil Rights Commission, in National Review. “Buried in a footnote, the GAO report concedes that disparities by themselves ‘should not be used to make conclusions about the presence or absence of unlawful discrimination’.”

The major reason for the disparity is that African-American students misbehave more than their white counterparts, concludes Heriot.

Just recently, the National Center for Education Statistics released a report showing that African-American students self-report being in physical fights on school property at a rate more than twice that of white students. Similarly, California’s former attorney general (and current senator) Kamala Harris reported in 2014 that African-American fifth-graders are almost five times more likely than whites to be chronically truant. In addition, as the Manhattan Institute’s Heather Mac Donald has reported, African-American male teenagers from ages 14-17 commit homicide at nearly ten times the rate of their white male counterparts. Why should anyone assume that rates of misbehavior in school would magically come out equal?

“The primary victims of the Obama administration’s effort to federalize school-discipline policy are African-American students attending majority-minority schools who are struggling to learn amid increasing classroom disorder,” Heriot writes.

The report also found that white students are disciplined more often than Asian-American students, she notes. Racial bias? Or behavior?

Heather Mac Donald, writing in City Journal, agrees that discipline disparities are linked to misbehavior.

The Justice and Education Departments’ Indicators of School Crime and Safety report shows far more gang activity, classroom disorder and verbal abuse of teachers in schools that are at least 50 percent minority, she writes.

In Minnesota, blacks are eight times more likely than whites to be suspended from school, reports Erica L. Green in the New York Times. School officials are under pressure to limit suspensions and identify discriminatory practices. However, some teachers say new policies have undermined school safety.

Simon Whitehead retired as a P.E. teacher at Southwest High in Minneapolis, after the new discipline policy “threw the school into complete chaos.”

Name-calling escalated to shoving, and then physical assaults. Profanity was redefined as “cultural dialect,” he said. . . . “We do need to train teachers, especially white teachers, on how to interact with our African-American students,” he said. “But not expecting the same things from them is actually disrespectful. That would actually be racist.”

Despite the new policies, black students, who make up 41 percent of enrollment, still account for two-thirds of suspensions in Minneapolis schools.

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