Study Finds Racial Discrepancy in Student Suspensions

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Black students, especially boys, are twice as likely to be suspended from public schools as white students, according to a new study - and that's raising eyebrows and concerns from educators.

The report, which comes from the University of Virginia and Charlottesville’s Legal Aid Justice Center, says many of those suspensions do more harm than good. The authors recommend a team approach that looks behind the behavior at the cause.

The study, called “Prevention v. Punishment: Threat Assessment, School Suspensions, and Racial Disparities,” says black male students are suspended sometimes at twice the rate as white males for the same behaviors, such as speaking out in class.

Albemarle High School teacher Wes Bellamy is concerned about these findings.

“It also makes me determined when you see data like this that lets you know we do have work to do,” he said.

The study also says suspensions don’t tend to improve behavior.

“Research shows that there really is no educational benefit to suspending students out of school. It only leads to long-term academic failure, further acting out lower graduation rates,” said Angela Ciolfi, a legal director at the Legal Aid Justice Center and co-author of the report.

Another author and professor at UVA’s Curry School of Education Dr. Dewey Cornell, said, “Currently most Virginia schools rely on a zero-tolerance policy but the study found that may not be the most effective method and so we are looking at viable alternatives to it.”

Some alternatives suggested are a collaborative decision-making process or other forms of intervention.

“We need to identify students who need support very early and teaching the social skills in schools just like we teach science,” Ciolfi said.

Having those alternative options on the table encourages Bellamy.

“I am inspired in the fact that I know we have the people in place to get that work done,” he said.

Bellamy also says that Albemarle County and Charlottesville city school systems are well on their way to implementing that assessment process successfully.

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