School Climate & Safety

Report Finds Suspension Disparities in Ky.

By Darcia Harris Bowman — March 05, 2003 1 min read
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Kentucky schools suspend students far too often—especially black students, who are booted from school two to 17 times as often as whites in some districts, a report concludes.

The study found that the state’s 176 districts doled out a combined 68,000 suspensions in the 2000-01 school year, up from about 65,500 such punishments the previous year.

The report, “Unintended Consequences: The Impact of ‘Zero Tolerance’ and Other Exclusionary Policies on Kentucky Students,” February 2003, is available from Building Blocks for Youth. (Requires Adobe’s Acrobat Reader.)

The authors did not include the total number of black students suspended in each of those academic years. But they said a review of individual districts showed that African-Americans, more often than whites were the students disciplined under such policies.

“Unintended Consequences: The Impact of ‘Zero Tolerance’ and Other Exclusionary Policies on Kentucky Students” was released late last month by Spalding University’s National Institute on Children, in Louisville, and the Children’s Law Center, in Covington, Ky.

Among other consequences, the report’s authors argue that schools’ widespread use of suspension feeds a growing disparity in school performance between the state’s black and white students.

Zero Tolerance

“Zero-tolerance policies seem to be a backdoor way of getting rid of certain student populations,” said co-author David Richart, the director of the National Institute on Children. “When policies send a message to African-American youth that they are disposable and less valuable, it’s no wonder that Kentucky is struggling with a dramatic achievement gap.”

The authors say their findings are consistent with recent national studies on the impact of zero-tolerance policies.

But Brad Hughes, a spokesman for the Kentucky School Boards Association, said the report’s characterization of the state’s rate of school suspensions as an overuse of zero-tolerance policies was misleading. Only two districts in the state, he said, have true zero- tolerance policies, which call for expulsion—not suspension—for students who commit certain infractions.

“We obviously do believe that in most cases, suspensions are meted our fairly,” Mr. Hughes added, “but if a district sees its African-American 8th graders are being suspended more often than its white 8th graders, they should probably look into it.”

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