School suspensions: a better way
Regarding the April 1 cover story "School discipline: in search of an even hand": It is poverty and a police presence in schools that feed the school-to-prison pipeline, not racial bias.
Although the student populations in the inner-city schools referenced in the article are predominately African-American, the more notable factor is the income disparity between these school districts and wealthier suburban districts. In places like East Oakland, Calif., where people struggle to live paycheck to paycheck, suspensions create a situation in which a parent must make the choice to take time off from work (usually unpaid) or leave a child at home unsupervised. This lack of supervision at home increases the risk of creating a situation where the child has a run-in with the law.
Multiple and long-duration suspensions lead to wasted educational opportunities, paralyzing the student's ability to make up missed assignments. In many cases this forces the student to repeat grade levels, which can cause a child to abandon all hope of graduating. Once a child feels defeated, it is not only grades that suffer. Absenteeism, truancy, and dropout rates also increase.
Many inner-city schools have become cozy with local police departments in order to display the illusion of security and safety. By bringing police into schools, discipline that was historically handled behind counselor doors is now carried out in the open with harsher punishments and the prospect of a criminal record.
Low-level, school-based offenses such as simple assault or verbal lashings do not warrant pushing our children into the criminal justice system. Curbing behavioral issues starts where students spend most of their adolescent lives: in the classroom.
The answer is a holistic approach with trained community members and counselors working with students on a one-on-one basis. By keeping students in school we have a better chance of graduating them as young adults who will become productive members of a community.
George Mason University School for Conflict Analysis and Resolution