Even amid a global pandemic Black youth in K-12 schools received the same level of unequal (harsher) discipline than their white and Latino counterparts. Photo by Eric Gay / AP

BY MAYA POTTIGER & ASWAD WALKER

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Even in a school year derailed by a pandemic, Black students were disciplined at higher rates than white students across the country.

Using statewide discipline data from the 2019/2020 school year, Word in Black analyzed which students in California, Georgia, Maryland, Texas and Washington state were facing higher rates of suspensions and expulsions.

In every state except Maryland, Black students are punished with in-school suspensions at much higher rates than white students. In California, Texas and Washington, Black students were given in-school suspensions at least twice the rate as white students. In Maryland, Black students are given in-school suspensions at a 0.2% higher rate.

Texas and Washington included data on expulsions. While, in both states, the expulsion rates for Black and white students are each under 1%, Black students are at least twice as likely to be expelled than their white peers.

In Maryland, the out-of-school suspensions and expulsions are grouped together. In this grouping, Black students are disciplined at a 6% rate, while white students are disciplined at a 2% rate.

These trends aren’t new. In an analysis of federal data from the 2015-2016 school year released last year, the Center for Civil Rights Remedies at the UCLA Civil Rights Project and the Learning Policy Institute found Black students were disciplined at higher rates than white students. 

Disciplinary rates in Houston public schools

A key finding in analysis found that while Black students lost 103 days per 100 students enrolled due to out-of-school suspensions, their white peers lost only 21 days. That equates to 82 more days in school, or nearly four months, for white students compared to their Black counterparts.

“These stark disparities in lost instruction explain why we cannot close the achievement gap if we do not close the discipline gap,” Dan Losen, director of the Center for Civil Right Remedies and lead researcher on the report told U.S. News. He added, “With all the instructional loss students have had due to COVID-19, educators should have to provide very sound justification for each additional day they prohibit access to instruction.”

Breaking those numbers down by gender reveals that Black boys lost 132 days per 100 students enrolled, while Black girls lost 77 days, numbers that are seven times the rate of their white peers.

And though Black girls lost fewer days than Black boys, all is not well with our daughters, nieces and granddaughters in K-12 classrooms.

For, the documentary, PUSHOUT: The Criminalization of Black Girls in Schools that debuted on PBS March 16, 2020, exposed the alarming numbers of African-American girls facing unfair and inequitable treatment in schools across the country.

Based on two books by Dr. Monique W. Morris, social justice scholar and founder and president of the National Black Women’s Justice Institute (NBWJI), PUSHOUT: The Criminalization of Black Girls in Schools and Sing a Rhythm, Dance a Blues, the documentary exposed the nation’s new educational trend: African-American girls as the fastest-growing population in the juvenile justice system and the only group of girls disproportionately experiencing harsh discipline at every educational level.

Locally, in HISD, 60% of girls suspended from school are Black even though Black girls only comprise 23% of HISD’s female population.

Sherea McKenzie

“While we spend a considerable amount of time and resources focusing on the challenges of Black male youth, we tend to not have such targeted strategies related to our female youth,” said Sherea McKenzie, director of special projects for Commissioner Precinct 1.

The report found that Hawaiian/Pacific Islander students came in second with 63 days lost, and Native American students lost an average 54 days.

In every category (ISS, OSS, expulsion), Black students in the Houston area had higher discipline rates. In both the 2018/19 and 2019/20 school years, Black students were roughly five times more likely to face out-of-school suspensions than their white peers, and a little more than twice as likely for in-school suspensions according to regional discipline data from the Texas Education Agency and analyzed by Word in Black.

Sarah Guidry, seen here standing between U.S. Congressman Al Green and State Rep. Senfronia Thompson during an Earl Carl Institute event on Nov. 20, 2017 at Texas Southern Universtity.

Moreover, while rates of in-school suspensions, out-of-school suspensions and expulsion actions all fell from the 2018/2019 school year to the 2019/2020 school year, Black students continued to face the highest rate of disciplinary actions. Using regional discipline data from the Texas Education Agency, Word in Black analyzed trends from the 2018/2019 and 2019/2020 school years, which were the two most recent years with data available. 

“When a white child acts inappropriately, it is often considered because of their age,” said Sarah Guidry, director of Texas Southern University’s Earl Carl Institute. “But when a Black child does the same act, it is more likely to be considered criminal and treated much more harshly.”

Word in Black is an innovative news collaborative of Black-owned press members that seeks solutions to systemic, social and racial inequities in the United States as expressed through article initiatives centered on issues most pressing to African Americans. The Defender Network is joined in this collaborative by the New York Amsterdam News, The Atlanta Voice, The Washington Informer, The Dallas Weekly, St. Louis American, Michigan Chronicle, The AFRO-American, Seattle Medium and Sacramento Observer. The initiative is headed by Word in Black Managing Editor Nick Charles.