Not much has changed in the way our schools are disciplining minority students.
Oklahoma City has published a report citing that although suspensions have dropped minority students are still being suspended at the same rate. Last year, Black students were suspended at a rate 133 percent higher than white students. Although that is an improvement from 2012-13, more needs to be done. Chuck Tompkins, head of Oklahoma City School District’s newly formed School Climate office, said, “I always say this complaint was a blessing because, until the complaint came about, you didn’t have district administrators saying, ‘We’ve got an issue with suspending black students or Hispanic students.’ This forced us.”
For some of Oklahoma City’s 88 schools, suspension rates dropped by over 80 percent. Most suspensions were due to fighting, disruptive behavior, or disorderly conduct. Tompkins says that suspensions are down because the district is doing a better job supporting students, teachers, and administrators: “We are addressing student behavior better than we have in the past. We’re helping students rather than just punishing them.”
With all this good news, Black students still represent 41 percent of total suspensions despite only making up 24 percent of the total population. White students, on the other hand, make up 15.6 percent of the population and account for 13 percent of suspensions. According to Tompkins, “Our goal is to bring percentages of suspensions in line with the percentages of our population. We have a ways to go with that. Absolutely.”
From the 2013-14 school year to June of 2017, the federal government opened an investigation of the district. They found bad practices when it came to record keeping, discipline, and notifying parents. Ed Allen, president of the Oklahoma City American Federation of Teachers, says the problem still has not been solved: “Just because you reduce suspensions, does not mean behavior is better. They’re trying to imply that suspensions are down, that behavior is better in the schools, but that’s not the case.”
Oklahoma City’s problem reflects a nationwide issue. A 2014 study from the U.S. Department of Education Office for Civil Rights found that these disparities start all the way in preschool:
“Black children represent 18% of preschool enrollment, but 48% of preschool children receiving more than one out-of-school suspension; in comparison, white students represent 43% of preschool enrollment but 26% of preschool children receiving more than one out of school suspension.”