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Study finds higher expulsion rates for black students in South

Black students are suspended and expelled at significantly higher rates than white children in 13 Southern states, according to a new analysis of federal data.

During the 2011-2012 academic year, 1.2 million black students were suspended from public schools. More than half of those suspensions took place in the states covered by a new report from the Graduate School of Education at the University of Pennsylvania.

The report includes suspension and expulsion rates for black students in most school districts in Alabama, Arkansas, Florida, Georgia, Kentucky, Louisiana, Mississippi, North Carolina, South Carolina, Tennessee, Texas, Virginia and West Virginia.

Although, black students were only 24 percent of the students in these Southern school districts, they were 55 percent of students suspended and 50 percent of students expelled.

Within the 13 states, Louisiana and Mississippi expelled the highest proportion of black students. Black students comprised 74 percent of suspensions from public schools in Mississippi, which was the highest proportion among the states.

“This was a phenomenon that persisted by size and locale” said Shaun Harper, associate professor of education at the University of Pennsylvania and the executive director of the Center for the Study of Race and Equity in Education who co-authored the analysis.

Harper said implicit biases in school discipline trends leads to the disproportionate rates at which black students are disciplined.

“Teachers and school leaders, like the rest of us, consume media that consistently criminalizes black people,” said Harper.

In a 2002 study done by the Equity Project at Indiana University, researchers found that white students were more frequently disciplined for objective offenses like “smoking, vandalism, leaving without permission, and obscene language.” On the other hand, black students were more likely to be disciplined for more subjective reasons, such as “disrespect, excessive noise, threat, and loitering.”

Research clearly shows, Harper said, students who are suspended and expelled are more likely to end up in criminal justice than their peers who are not disciplined in school. The Washington Post reported on a 2011 study done in Texas that showed 23 percent of students who were suspended even once were later involved with the juvenile justice system. Just 2 percent of students with no school disciplinary records ever came in contact with the system.

“That makes this incredibly consequential for the future of young people’s lives,” said Harper.

In a recent Education Next poll, only 19 percent of people said they support instituting school district policies to even out suspension and expulsion rates across racial groups. One fundamental goal of the University of Pennsylvania report is to raise the nation’s consciousness about how enormous of an issue disproportionate discipline is, especially for black children.

PBS NewsHour education coverage is part of American Graduate: Let’s Make it Happen, a public media initiative made possible by the Corporation for Public Broadcasting.