Education

Minneapolis School Officials Try To Figure Out Why Black Students Suspended More Than White Peers

Officials in a Minneapolis school district are trying to figure out why black students are suspended three times more often than their white peers, according to a Sunday report.

Black students have a 338 percent higher chance than white students to be suspended at Justice Page Middle School in Minneapolis, Minn., according to The New York Times. Black students make up 41 percent of the Minneapolis school district’s student body, but 76 percent of its suspensions.

The black students constantly tell the principal, “The teacher only sees me,” Justice Page Principal Erin Rathke said. She responds, “Yes, that’s probably true.”

Former President Barack Obama-era policies loosened up school discipline policies, threatening federal investigation or funding losses for schools that did not check its discipline rates against the racial makeup of the student body. Republicans have speculated whether relaxed discipline codes permitted Nikolas Cruz, who had a record of violence before a Feb. 14 school shooting in Florida, to escape the notice of law enforcement.

Minnesota passed a law giving teachers more authority to kick threatening students out of their classrooms after state teacher Debbie York suffered injuries and had to retire when a first grade student pushed her and injured her neck and back.

“It’s not about arming teachers with guns; it is about arming them with the freedom to talk about troubled kids whose behavior not only needs to be assessed, but when the behavior puts others at risk of serious harm, intervention other than therapy,” York told the NYT. The former teacher wants the stricter disciplinary law to go into effect nationwide.

However, Minneapolis education officials worry about racism.

Former Minneapolis Superintendent Bernadeia Johnson reviewed referrals submitted by kindergarten teachers for students who were reportedly misbehaving. Teachers described white students as “high-strung,” “gifted but can’t use his words,” and “had a hard day,” yet black students received referrals including terms like “violent,” “destructive,” and “cannot be managed.”

Schools nationwide suspend black students three times more often as whites. However, Minnesota suspends black students more by a factor of eight. State officials justify the rate by pointing to the state’s racial poverty gap between white and black people, the largest gap nationwide.

“We do need to train teachers, especially white teachers, on how to interact with our African American students,” Simon Whitehead, a former Minneapolis physical education teacher, told the NYT. “But not expecting the same things from [black students] is actually disrespectful. That would actually be racist.”

Whitehead suggested that his school, after being the subject of an Obama-era Department of Education investigation, redefined profanity as “cultural dialect.” Verbal abuse turned into physical violence and his administrators no longer abided by a policy allotting for a warning followed by a consequence. Whitehead would use the term “quality time” instead of “detention.” He retired in 2017 after being branded a racist.

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