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For Black Students the School to Prison Pipeline Is in Higher Gear Than Ever


The focus has been intense on the wildly disproportionate number of black students who are suspended or expelled from America’s public schools. But what has flown quietly under the radar is the even more wildly disproportionate number of black students who are arrested on high school and even elementary school campuses for alleged behavior that in decades past was handled in the principal’s office and with a call home to parents. That’s still the way school infractions are handled with most white students and in most suburban public schools.

But if the student is black, a cross word between students, a glare at the teacher, or a scuffle is likely to bring the police. The hard numbers tell the brutal tale of the iron fist treatment of blacks by school administrators. The U.S. Department of Education’s Office of Civil Rights in separate reports in 2012 and 2014 found that more than 70 percent of black and Hispanic students were involved in school related arrests or simply turned over to local police and the courts. The report found that the actual arrest rate for black students was one-third higher than for white students. In the Chicago public schools in 2011 the number of black students arrested even topped the national average. Nearly three-quarters of all arrests were of African-American students though they comprised less than half of the Chicago public school students. They were arrested at a rate nearly four times higher than even that of Latinos.

School officials have grossly overreacted to the real or perceived bad behavior of some black students for two reasons. One is what the book on enforcement and public policy mandates. The Federal Gun-Free Schools Act, passed in 1994, requires that states order their schools to kick students out for weapons possession in order to qualify for federal funds. (School officials later expanded the list of violations for student expulsion to include fighting and other violent acts.) The zero-tolerance school laws and policy in many school districts mandate that a student be expelled for one year for infractions that include drug sales, robbery, assault, weapons possession and fights that cause serious physical injury.


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