Tuesday, April 20, 2010
New Report: Excessive Punishment of Minor, Subjective Offenses Results in Racial Disparities
From Families and Friends of Louisiana's Incarcerated Children:
Louisiana's Rate of Suspensions and Expulsions Found to be Far Above National Rate
Excessive Punishment of Minor, Subjective Offenses Results in Racial Disparities
Families and Friends of Louisiana’s Incarcerated Children (FFLIC) and the National Economic and Social Rights Initiative (NESRI) are joining today with education advocates, parents, and students on the steps of the Louisiana Capitol Building to release “Pushed Out: Harsh Discipline in Louisiana Schools Denies the Right to Education.”
According to the report, Louisiana’s expulsion rate is five times the national rate, nearly 16,000 middle and high school students drop out each year, and public schools in the state dole out over 300,000 out-of-school suspensions a year. Within the state-run Recovery School District direct operated schools, the expulsion rate is ten times the national rate and 1 in every 4 students was suspended in a single year, twice the statewide rate and over four times the national rate
State law, as currently written, contributes to the problem, allowing principals to suspend students for a wide range of minor misbehavior, including “willful disobedience,” disrespecting school staff, and using “unchaste or profane language.” For many public school students and parents, these figures merely reflect what they already know to be true from experience. Working in her community, Ashana Bigard hears these stories repeatedly. “Two middle school students asked why students at their school get suspended for wearing the wrong color undershirt underneath their uniform shirt and for wearing the wrong color socks. They expressed their concerns about being suspended for such minor infractions and then missing school and falling behind.
Moreover, the overuse of harsh discipline disproportionately affects some Louisiana school children over others. African American students make up 44% of the statewide public school population, but 68% of suspensions and 72.5% of expulsions. And in school districts with a larger percentage of African American and low-income students, there are higher rates of suspension and expulsion. These districts tend to have fewer resources for positive interventions.
“Pushed Out” makes specific recommendations to change the trend, such as abandoning zero tolerance policies and implementing Positive Behavior Support approaches which, where implemented, have led to a 50% drop in suspensions and violent acts and large increases in academic performance. The report gives specific recommendations to Louisiana state government for how to reduce the number of children who are pushed out of school and thereby lose their right to an education.
The report’s findings support two bills filed this legislative session, SB 628 introduced by Senator Ann Duplessis, that would eliminate subjective behavior as a suspendable and expellable infraction in Louisiana; and Senator Sharon Weston Broome’s SB 527 which requires local school districts to provide training to teachers on effective classroom management techniques. Full copies of the report are available upon request.
Statewide Findings From the Report:
In Louisiana, only 65.9% of students graduate from high school in four years, and nearly 16,000 middle and high school students dropout each year.
The expulsion rate in Louisiana is five times the national rate and the out of school suspension rate is twice the national rate.
Over 86,000 students are suspended out of school, more than 90,000 are suspended in school, and over 7,000 are expelled each year.
When including multiple suspensions for the same students, there are over 300,000 out of school and in school suspensions a year which range from 1 to 5 days each. Even if the average length of suspension was only two days, this would result in over half a million lost school days each year.
State law has contributed to the overuse of suspensions and expulsions. School principals may suspend students out of school for a wide range of minor misbehavior, including “willful disobedience,” disrespecting school staff, using “unchaste or profane language.” Statewide, suspensions and expulsions for these vague and subjective offenses are applied disproportionately to students of color, students from poor communities and students with disabilities.
Schools are 2.6 times more likely to suspend and 3.2 times more likely to expel African American students than white students.
African Americans make up 44% of the statewide student population but 68% of suspensions and 72.5% of expulsions.
School districts with a larger percentage of African American students and students in poor communities utilize more punitive and exclusionary discipline policies and have higher rates of suspension and expulsion.
For instance, in RSD direct operated public schools, where 98% of students are African American and 79% low income, almost 30 percent (28.8%) of students were suspended out of school.
In St. Tammany Parish, where only 18.5% of students are African American and 45.1% low income, only 4.1% of students were suspended out of school.
Research shows that African American students are more likely to be punished for subjective offenses such as “disrespect, excessive noise and loitering,” and that schools impose more severe punishments on African American students than white students for the same infractions.
Schools increasingly involve police in disciplinary matters, resulting in arrests for problems once dealt with by educators.
The American Psychological Association’s national research demonstrates suspensions and expulsions increase likelihood of future behavior problems, academic difficulty and drop outs.
Nationally, students with multiple suspensions are three times more likely to drop out by 10th grade than students who have not been suspended. Youth who drop out of high school are three times more likely to be incarcerated.
While Louisiana spends $8,402 a year to educate one child in public school (including local, state and federal funding), the state spends $105,928 a year to incarcerate one child in a juvenile correctional facility.
New Orleans Findings From the Report:
The expulsion rate in RSD direct operated schools is ten times the national rate.
RSD direct operated schools are 98% African American and 79% low income.
In RSD direct operated schools, 1 in 4 students, are suspended out of school. This is more than twice the statewide rate in Louisiana and over four times the national rate.
Among RSD students surveyed by FFLIC, 60 percent had been suspended.
Seventy percent of those who had been suspended reported at least one of their suspensions was for minor misbehavior including 42% for disruptive or disrespectful behavior, 16% for having clothing or items prohibited by school rules, and 12% merely for being late to class or school.
Among students surveyed 40% had been recommended for expulsion.
Twenty one percent of those recommended for expulsion were sent to a juvenile facility.
Only 5% recommended for expulsion reported receiving any counseling or mediation during their expulsion.
Before Hurricane Katrina, the Orleans Parish School Board spent about $46 per student on school security with a student population of about 65,000. In 2006-2007, RSD spent $2,100 per student with a student population of approximately 9,500. By the 2008-2009 school year, RSD had cut their security budget by more than half, but still spent $690 per student – 15 times the pre-Katrina spending.
From September 2007 to January 2009, there were 492 school related arrests at 54 New Orleans public and charter schools. Approximately one quarter of the arrests were for minor offenses that should not involve police intervention in a school setting and in all likelihood should have been dealt with by school staff, including disturbing the peace, trespass (which often involves being on school grounds after the school day ends), truancy and school fights not categorized as Battery or Assault.
Alternatives to Overuse of Suspension and Expulsion:
Both school-wide Positive Behavior Supports (PBS) approaches and restorative practices have track records of success. Implementation of these policies in schools across the country has led to up to a 50% drop in suspensions and violent acts and large increases in academic performance.
Although mandated by the state to be used in Louisiana public schools, and mandated by the RSD in 2008 to be applied in all RSD direct operated schools, PBS approaches are not fully implemented in many school districts, including the RSD.
Zero tolerance policies sit side-by-side with these approaches, undermining their efficacy.
State government must monitor and reduce discrimination in discipline policies and practices and reduce the number of children being removed from school for non-violent and subjective behaviors. To do so:
The State Legislature should pass legislation to reverse zero-tolerance policies and reduce out-of-school suspensions and expulsions.
The State Legislature should eliminate subjective infractions from state’s list of suspendable behaviors.
The State Legislature should require that districts provide classroom management training that includes techniques that reduce unnecessary suspensions and expulsions.
The State Department of Education and local school districts should implement preventive and positive approaches to discipline, including PBS approaches and restorative justice programs and best practices for the use of law enforcement in schools