CARRBORO - School suspensions foster a me-against-the-world mindset in kids with troubling issues, and set struggling students further back in their studies. Numbers show a racial and income disparity in school disciplinary actions, with African-American students 3.5 times more likely to be expelled than white students.
That is according to data presented at a conference on school discipline and in-school policing held Saturday at the Century Center. The forum was organized by Chapel Hill-Carrboro Citizens Advocating for Racial Equality (CARE) and attended by public school officials, Chapel Hill and Carrboro police chiefs, and community members.
Suspension and expulsion are forms of exclusionary discipline, something that can drive a wedge between children who are skating on the edge of failure or quitting, and the schools that might represent their best chance, speakers said.
Long-term suspension is not productive, said panelist Barbara Fedders, a clinical assistant professor at the UNC Juvenile Justice Clinic. Its not healthy for the students that are suspended.
The forum focused on the schools-to-prison pipeline created when students are sent to juvenile court for minor infractions (disciplinary issues, fighting or low-level drug use) and end up falling behind in school and becoming dramatically more likely to enter the criminal justice system when they reach adulthood.
In the Chapel Hill-Carrboro City Schools, 20 percent of black students will not graduate in four years, and 19 percent will not graduate after five years of high school, said Jason Langberg, an attorney for Advocates for Childrens Services. Data shows that that corresponds to suspension rates.
The disparities with in-school suspensions are very high, he said. The rate that black students are place in in-school suspension is 10 times the number of white kids that are put in in school suspensions.Disparities
Children with troubling home issues, those who are gay or struggling with their sexuality, and students with disabilities all get suspended or expelled at higher than the national average, according to studies.
Latino students are twice as likely to be suspended, and Native American students 1.5 times as likely to be suspended as white students, according to data presented at the forum.
C.J. Suitt, a former CHCCS student who now teaches and is a member of the Sacrificial Poets, spoke of his own experiences as a student of color, an activist, and a teen. He said he no longer wants to sit passively while others are faced with injustice.
Theres an initial criminality in melanin, as they say. If Im quiet, my skin is loud.
Nationally, students in foster care are three times as likely to be suspended or expelled as students in the care of a guardian.
Theyre not bad kids. Theyre doing the same thing as the other kids are; theyre just being punished differently, said Greg McElveen, a CHCCS school board member who served on one of the afternoons discussion panels.
These problems are systemic, said Langberg. The pipeline is bigger than suspensions, and its bigger than policing. Its about racism and poverty factors.
Superintendent Tom Forcella addressed the forum. Its a much-needed conversation, he said. Were well aware of the data and its something that we struggle with, and I think that by working together we can start to change some of it.A Catch-22
Paul Atherton, a former Carrboro police officer who was a resource officer at McDougle Elementary, McDougle Middle, and Carrboro Elementary, said the suspension issue represents a Catch-22.
Its tough to balance, said Atherton, who did not participate in the conference. The in-school suspension was actually pretty effective, I thought. But there were times where there needed to be an out-of-school suspension to get the kids attention. The problem is that some parents do not have the resources to deal with a child whos out of school. Some parents, theyre going to be at work, so the child has to be at home alone.
Atherton was a uniformed patrol officer for five years on the Carrboro Police Department before becoming an SRO. He said that during his time, he never had to put a child into secure custody, but did refer several children to a juvenile court officer.
I did feel that things
that had been handled within the school, like petty theft or small discipline offenses, once you had an SRO in the school, they became police statistics, where they wouldnt before, he said.
I didnt want to report everything that happened. Theres a lot to be said for handling stuff the way it used to be handled, which is through school punishment, rather than through the legal system, Atherton said. The school resource officers today are much busier than I was.