The Injustice of Unfair School Suspensions

In the groundbreaking case, Brown V. Board of Education, the honorable Chief Justice Earl Warren stated, “In these days, it is doubtful that any child may reasonably be expected to succeed in life if he is denied the opportunities of an education” (1954). I would agree that the greatest modern day example of this life altering atrocity is the alarming rate in which African-American students are suspended from school.

Many individuals may view my statement as being one that is blown out of proportion. Some may even believe that it is greatly exaggerated. However, a study conducted by the U.S. Department of Education Office for Civil Rights served as a necessary tool to strengthen my sentiments, and validate my argument solely on the basis of a disturbing discovery. It was determined that although nationwide African- American students represented only a mere 16% of the student population, they comprised 31-40% of the total number of students that were suspended or expelled in 2014.

In light of this finding, we must now ask ourselves how is it ethically possible for such a small population of students to make up such a large portion of this statistical population?

Conversely, the answer to this mind-boggling question is quite simple. The only way for this phenomenon to occur is through unfair and bias practices within the school system. That many “out-of-touch” administrators and “one-sided” staff members utilize to place students of color at the wrong end of the spectrum, as it relates to the school’s disciplinary policies and procedures.

More insight into the one-sided and heavy-handed disciplinary tactics that are deployed against African-American students is found within a study conducted by The University of Chicago’s Consortium on Chicago School Research. Within the study, it was determined that as of 2009 overall the frequency of students receiving out-of-school suspensions had declined. However, during the same period of time, the rate of in-school suspensions for African-American students has doubled.

In other words, for students of color one type of harsh and unreasonable punishment has been substituted for another type of harsh and unreasonable punishment in the form of social isolation from their peers. This is an unacceptable trend that cannot be allowed to continue.

As it relates to disciplinary actions, African-American students do not receive fair treatment, and are suspended more than three times as often as their white classmates (CRDC, 2014). This is an unreasonably high rate of suspension that has both damaging consequences and adverse effects that have resulted in days, weeks, months, and even precious years of lost instructional and educational time.

Plainly put, “In these days, it is doubtful that any child may reasonably be expected to succeed in life if he is denied the opportunities of an education” (Warren, 1954).

- Charles C. Brown, PhD

Professor, Advisee to State Representative LaShawn K. Ford, and Illinois 8th District Chair of Higher Education