The harsh reality is school is getting harsher, not easier. Out of school suspensions have more than doubled since the 1970s. From 1974 to 2007, the number of School Resource Officers, or police on campus has risen by nearly a third all across America. Talking back to teachers, skipping class, or otherwise disobedient behaviors are now more likely than ever to land a student disciplinary consequences.
This resurgence in “zero tolerance” teaching comes from the “broken windows theory” which dictates that if smaller offenses are cracked down on, more serious disciplinary infractions will be discouraged and students will feel safer.
Yet, these policies have retroactively correlated to students, and particularly non-white students, to a higher likelihood of a life behind bars. Why?
The problem is two-fold: a deeply mismanaged justice process, and a bias for non-white students to be seen as inherently unsuccessful or violent by administrators.
For one there’s the SRO problem. Schools with more police officers, or SROs, on campus are more likely to implicate officers when a student gets physically involved with faculty or other students. This correlates to an increased number of arrests on campus or an increased number of referrals to law enforcement or juvenile court as a form of discipline. Yet, these referrals and arrests turn the student over into the Juvenile Justice System, making it much more likely for them to get a juvenile record, creating a snowball effect. Even if the first offense is light, now with a record, the student's second offense is more likely to be punished harsher. In fact, according to Judge Steven C. Teske, Chief Judge of Clayton County, Georgia’s Juvenile Court, “placing cops on school grounds resulted in eleven times as many students getting sent to juvenile court,” often turning prosecutorial arguments into accusations of who made an “adult mad” than serious infractions like burglary, theft, or assault.
But the sad reality is- justice isn’t blind. Black students, “made up 16 percent of all enrolled children in 2011-12, according to federal data,” yet were “31 percent of all in-school arrests.” Some of this is related to the socioeconomic correlation between poverty and race, making black students more likely to have higher arrests because they are also more likely to go to underfunded schools and more likely to live in lower-income areas. Even so, racial biases still make an appearance. With socioeconomic factors unincluded, black students are still, “more likely to be disciplined for subjective offenses, such as defiance or loitering; white students are more likely to be disciplined for more clear-cut reasons, such as cutting class, smoking, and vandalism.” Young black girls are punished at even more disproportionate rates, especially if they are darker in complexion than their lighter-skinned peers. Racial disciplinary lines are even more pronounced in the south in states like Texas and Florida. These disparities make the futures of black, and of all non-white students, ambiguous.
While the Department of Education has pushed for change in the past, it is ultimately the responsibility of individual faculty to take proposed solutions to heart. Until then, students will continue to feel the harsh realities of race relations and the U.S. incarceration system at work every day- at home, at work, and even on the playground.
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