Students of color are profoundly more affected by punishments from schools than their white counterparts. “The 2013-14 Civil Rights Data Collection (CRDC) documented that black students, who make up 16% of enrollment, accounted for 40 percent of suspensions nationally” (Gordon, 2018). This is the most prevalent form of systemic inequality within the education system. Students are pushed out of public schools into the prison system, and as indicated in the CRDC document, the indisputable majority of these pupils are African American. This process of funneling students out of their schools is called “the school-to-prison pipeline'' and it affects many students of color.
How does school punishment affect these students? African Americans are affected because they have a higher chance of getting harsher punishment; African Americans have worse experiences with police arrests; and White students get excused from infractions more than African American students. In fact, African American students are two twice as likely to get arrested, not because they commit more crimes, but because they have harsher experiences with the police (Michaels, 2017). Security guards and police officers tend to handle African Americans harshly. This unfair action from many police officers also translates into more common school punishments such as expulsion and suspension.
I will argue that this process of punishment is unfair and very biased. It completely segregates the white and the black students. For example, African Americans were 31% more likely to be suspended from their school, meaning that for every school suspension from a white, Asian, or Latino student, almost two African American students would be suspended (NBC News, 1:07); and African American boys are three times more likely to get expelled than White boys (1:32). This shows the huge disparities between the two races when it comes to school punishment and the school to prison pipeline. With increasing frequency in suspension and punishment from teachers and schools, African Americans have a hard time getting a proper education. Following this long school closure from covid, this issue becomes relevant again as students return to the classroom. Now is a good time to revisit this issue and consider solutions.
African American students, from early education through to high school, have a higher chance of getting harsh punishments. Many black students and students of color are receiving unnecessarily harsh punishments for the same offenses which go unpunished when committed by white students. An infraction as simple as using a phone in class may escalate into something more extreme. “An increase in the achievement gap between black and white students also predicts a larger-than-average discipline gap, the researchers found” (Spector, 2020).
Some people think that racism in our modern society doesn’t exist, and while it is not as blatant as it once was, racism still exists as can be seen in schools. Spector’s article upholds that according to research, racism in schools is demonstrated in the large punishment gaps. But exactly how large are these disciplinary gaps? “Nearly 50 percent of preschool children who are suspended multiple times are black, yet black children represent less than one-fifth of the preschool population” (Chen, 2019). Even in situations where African Americans are the minority, they are still the race that is punished the most often and most severely. This illustrates how discrimination against African Americans starts when they are still children. Preschoolers still must deal with the struggles most people experience much later in life. If this type of punishment is enforced onto African American students at such a young age, how are they expected to thrive academically? If students learn about how their skin color affects them and experience the negative effects before they learn to stack blocks, then it is obvious that something in society needs to change.
In Texas, African American students were 31% more likely to receive “discretionary suspension” than white students. These suspensions were mainly by school Deans for very small acts of offense (NBC News, 1:07). This data shows how dire the situation really is. For there to be such a gap between two races when it comes to something as serious as school punishment and the possibility of prison is striking. According to a report published by the state courts, 74% of arrests in New York City public schools in 2012 were for misdemeanors or civil violations (Nelson, 2015). This directly results in a juvenile record, a doorway to the school-to-prison pipeline.
When it comes to gender, the problem is charted even more. African American boys, as mentioned before, are 3 times more likely to be suspended than white boys, while African American girls are the most suspended group of people (NBC News, 1:27). This shows how the true problem not only outlines racism but sexism too. Unnecessary suspensions and expulsions are most heavily enforced onto African American boys and girls; this consequently increased the achievement gap between African American students and white students. “Students of color are suspended at disproportionately higher rates than white students and, on average, perform more poorly on standardized tests” (Spector, 2020). Previously, few people connected the idea that unnecessary suspensions could cause decreasing academic achievement in students of color. But as evidence pointing in the direction of this depressing fact keeps increasing, the idea has become more imaginable, and now can be proven to be true. The effects of the suspensions are as bad as the punishments that are given. In equal measure, this mistreatment affects the students psychologically and academically. A series of foolish suspensions could rob a disproportionate number of children of color of a promising future.
Police officers and security guards tend to handle African Americans with more hostility. This is the root of the problem. Too many unnecessary police arrests cost too many African Americans their future. And these arrests fuel the school-to-prison pipeline. The disparities between white arrests and arrests for people of color are despairingly wide - so substantial that 99% of students who were arrested in New York in 2016 were black or Latino (The Root, 0:47). White arrests account for less than one percent of school arrests, considering that Asian arrests as a population of color are also a part of the remaining one percent - meaning that an African American student is more than 99 times more likely to get cuffed than a white person. But the worst part is that African American students do not commit more crimes, rather they are punished more severely. If African Americans committed more crimes, then schools with officers would have the same rate of arrests, but research shows that schools with stationed officers are 5 times more likely to arrest students for minor infractions than schools without guards (NBC News, 2:33). This shows how quick to act many officers are, often jumping to conclusions, and escalating minor situations. This is the exact behavior that started the school-to-prison pipeline, and it is only getting worse.
The data gets stronger. African American girls are over eight times more likely to get arrested than white girls. This shows the disparities in arrests for specific genders (ACLU, 2020). As previously mentioned, small violations can escalate into an arrest. A Latino student was arrested for something as simple as burping and an African American girl was arrested for doodling on a desk with an erasable marker. Even when students of color are doing the right thing, they are arrested. For instance, a student of color took a blade from a peer because he was cutting himself, and yet, it led to an arrest against the person who tried to save the peer (Rouge Rocket, 7:48). If students of color are so discriminated against that they can save someone from a self-inflicted injury or death and still get arrested, then it is clear that not only are we hiring the wrong officers, but police officers have also become so biased that they have the audacity to arrest someone for doing the right thing. This level of contempt, lack of empathy, and pure cruelty are truly what is placing students into juvenile detention, not the actions of students of color. Not only is this putting innocent black children into a never-ending path of punishment, but it is also spreading the false stereotype that people of color, specifically African Americans, are rule-breakers and disrespectful. This traps black students in a continuous replay of stereotypes and arrests.
While the NYC Department of Education should not completely ban officers in schools, they need to make sure that they are hiring the right ones, non-bias, with sensitivity training toward all people, specifically people of color. Police officers can be very helpful in schools and can ensure the safety of the students. But when they hire the wrong security officers, unrighteous arrests can occur. “Liberties Union released an analysis today of New York City school safety data showing that black and Latino children are still disproportionately arrested, handcuffed, and issued summonses by police in their schools. Black and Latino students continue to represent approximately 90 percent of arrests and summonses in school, while constituting only two-thirds of the student body” (NYCLU, 2018). Again, the high arrest rates are shown in the data, but more importantly, they detail the student body fractions. Seeing that 90% of students that are arrested are African American or Latino, the two-thirds of the student body they make up is not very high and disproportionate to the arrest rate.
White students are excused from infractions more than African American students. One might say that the reason so many African American students are arrested is that they simply commit more crimes. But recent data contradicts this claim. “Researchers have found that once black students and white students are both placed with same-race teachers, and are similar on the other covariates, black students’ classroom behavior is rated more favorably than is white students’ behavior” (Rudd, 2014). This shows that African American students are not more violent, and are not worst behaved, but are better behaved in many cases. This shifts the blame from African American students and entirely onto police officers and security guards. African Americans can be better behaved and still get arrested at higher rates, showing how much advantage white students have. If white students were better behaved, then it would make it a bit clearer as to why police officers are so hostile to students of color, but white students do not have better demeanors. It shows how false stereotype statements like, “African Americans are aggressive” can be.
Many people believe that African Americans get what they deserve when they get arrested, but in fact, they get more punishment for their crimes than necessary. “Although discriminant analysis suggests that disproportionate rates of office referral and suspension for boys are due to increased rates of misbehavior, no support was found for the hypothesis that African American students act out more than other students. Rather, African American students appear to be referred to the office for less serious and more subjective reasons…” (Rudd, 2014). This points out the privileged position of white students regarding school infractions. Black students are sent to the school office for things that white students get away with easily.
The research also shows that African American students go to the office for “less serious and more subjective reasons.” This means that students of color are sent to the office for more and more insignificant reasons. However, when a white student commits the same acts, they are not even mildly punished, which helps them get away with bigger acts of violation. “This comment posted on the topix blog is emblematic of extreme cultural deficit thinking: black children lack any form of family structure. They are not taught respect for teachers or any [authoritative] figures. Most black children are disruptive, aggressive and are [more keen] on gang culture than getting an education” (Rudd, 2014). From this perspective is how many police officers see African American students. They think that they have no respect and are violent, so this causes them to handle African Americans and students of color with more aggression.
Many people think that black students do not care for education and instead prefer to commit crimes. This point of view is completely biased. This perception directly results in the wrongful arrests of so many innocent students of color and is the reason so many black kids are going through the school-to-prison pipeline. If people continue to embrace this idea, then this stereotype will always trigger arrests against students of color for unjust reasons. If these individuals would look at the data instead of the oversimplified notion that black and brown are bad and white is good, then maybe their opinion would change. “The idea that you can have two kids of different races misbehaving in similar ways and receiving different forms of punishment — one gets a slap on the wrist, say, and the other gets suspended — is a really important thing to understand socially,” Owens said. “Subconsciously, we all have racial biases in different ways. This is one way in which those biases are manifesting in the classroom” (Brown University, 2019). Teachers also play a big role in this. Teachers suspend African American students but allow the white students who are committing the same crimes to received barely any punishment. With teachers suspending black students at such high rates, police officers are led to believe they commit more crimes and therefore arrest them more aggressively. Sadly, many African Americans are born into this cycle of discrimination and loss, yet most White people are born into opportunities. That is the world now, but we can change it so that your race does not dictate your chance of success. So that opportunity is not something you are born with, but something you must earn.
Conclusively, African Americans, and other students of color, are more heavily punished by schools. Many of these students are wrongly expelled, suspended, or even arrested, as many teachers and police officers with extreme bias jump to damaging conclusions. This funnels the student into the school-to-prison pipeline and sadly traps them so they cannot get out. Combined bias from teachers and police officers makes it difficult for many students of color to get an education. With an alarming number of students getting sent into the school-to-prison pipeline every day, the situation is dire. Schools must hire the right teachers, police officers, and security guards, who do not have biases, and who will not arrest students based on the color of their skin. Schools are sadly an incubator for racism. This systemic discrimination is one of the most important issues that the Department of Education is grappling with. Awareness is generally the first step toward solutions. Still, schools have not done much to prevent occurrences like unnecessary arrests or punishment. The US education system must create equal opportunities for all students, and an environment that is not intimidating. To quote former Congressman John Lewis, who was one of our most important civil rights activists, a strong voice for education and ending racism, school must become a place where students get into “good trouble.”
1 ACLU. 2020. Black-White Girl School Arrest Risk.
2 Camera, L. 2020, October 13. School Suspension Data Shows Glaring Disparities in Discipline by Race. U.S.News.
3 Chen, G. 2019, August 13. Students of Color Disproportionately Disciplined in Schools.
4 Gordon, N. 2018, January 18. Disproportionality in student discipline: connecting policy to research.
5 Michaels, S. 2017, September 13. Black kids are 5 times likelier than white kids to be locked up: and the racial disparity is only growing. Mother Jones.
6 NBC News. Think. 2020, June 15. How Schools Are Funneling Black Students Into The Prison System.
7 Nelson, L. and Lind, D. 2015, October 27. The school-to-prison pipeline, explained - police officers in classrooms are just the tip of the iceberg.
8 News from Brown. 2019, July 18. Teacher treatment of students factors into racial gap in school suspensions. Brown University.
9 NYCLU. 2018, April 30. New Data: police disproportionately target black and Latino Students in NYC Schools.
10 Rouge Rocket. 2020, February 25. The School-To-Prison Pipeline Debate: SROs & why student arrests are increasing.
11 Rudd, T. 2014, February 5. Racial Disproportionality in School Discipline: Implicit Bias is Heavily Implicated.
12 Spector, C. 2020, February 6. How Unequal Discipline Hurts Black Students.
13 The Root. 2017, September 7. How the School-to-Prison Pipeline Functions.