School discipline for student disobedience frequently makes waves on the news, usually for an extreme example of the zero tolerance policy; but now some schools plan to change basic discipline based on “disparate impact,” a term used by policy makers to describe a specific form of racism.
School Discipline Policies Racist, Unless Applied By Numbers?
In the past, discipline meant that if a child breaks a school rule, the school should discipline the child according to the school discipline policy. This may mean suspension or expulsion if the infraction is serious enough.
In the name of fairness, adherents to a strictly color/gender-blind policy argue that it needs to apply to the deed without taking into account the race or gender of the child. This means that if cell phones are not allowed in school, and teachers catch two students with cell phones, the students should both be disciplined equally regardless of whether the students are boys, girls, Caucasian, Asian, or an exchange student from Iceland.
The problem with this even-handed method of discipline is the disparate impact, or the discriminatory effect of a neutral policy that ends up impacting one race more than another. According to Roger Clegg, the president of the Center for Equal Opportunity, African-Americans commit a disproportionate number of crimes. If this parallels school violations, this means that disciplining all students equally for the same infractions means that more African-Americans receive punishment.
In other words, as critics say, a color-blind discipline policy will end up discriminating against African-Americans.
Indeed, this is what the “Nondiscriminatory Administration of School Discipline” letter from the U.S. Department of Education and U.S. Department of Justice states: “African-American students without disabilities are more than three times as likely as their white peers without disabilities to be expelled or suspended.”
Racism in Schools
Disparity in discipline across race impacts the goal of equal access for all students to a quality education. This means more African-American students miss class time because of disciplinary measures than students of other races. The memo on nondiscriminatory discipline in schools goes to great lengths to define multiple forms of racism in discipline, including obvious examples where two students of different races receive different forms of discipline for the same infraction.
The report suggests that in some cases, teachers may tend to refer one race of students to the office for infractions while letting others slide. This would lead to an unfairly-applied discipline policy, even if the office staff disciplines all referred students the same. The memo calls for schools to scrutinize their referrals to ensure fair practices to all students.
Racial Discipline Policy Calls for Equality Over Behavior
School populations are mixed, some in favor of one race, others in favor of another. In order to hold all schools and classrooms to an equal number of referrals/discipline, there will be times when schools will not discipline children of one race but will discipline their peers of another race, for the same infraction. To use the earlier example, if two students are caught with cell phones, one might be disciplined, while the other could go without punishment, in order to stay within the newly established equality boundaries.
Maryland has already adopted a policy that states that students of each race should receive roughly the same number of disciplinary actions over the course of a school year, regardless of behavior. How will this impact student behavior? Only time will tell.© Copyright 2014 Jennifer Wagaman, All rights Reserved. Written For: Decoded Parenting