Disciplinary disproportionality provides a painful exemplar of structural racism in the United States.
In this chapter, we add to the literature on structural racism through a focus on the historical antecedents of current disparities in the administration of exclusionary discipline—suspension and expulsion. We track the massive resistance of the South in the wake of Oliver Brown et al. v. Board of Education of Topeka, Kansas (1954) and its success in delaying the implementation of meaningful school desegregation. Thereafter, we show how desegregation, when it finally occurred, yielded a significant increase in both the rates of disciplinary exclusion and the size of the Black–White disciplinary gap. Finally, we trace how the importation of the War on Drugs into schools—through the implementation of 1990s zero tolerance policies—created a further widening of Black–White discipline gap, a gap that has not narrowed to this day. We conclude with the realization that the Courts, Congress, the Federal government, and a majority of school districts and schools across America have yet to recognize that separation from educational opportunity that takes place within the walls of schools is also inherently unequal.
- Exclusionary discipline
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The doctrine of interposition, originally developed by John C. Calhoun in the 1830s and resurrected by Richmond News-Leader editor James Kirkpatrick in a series of editorials in the early 1950s, became a central strategy for the South’s campaign of massive resistance to desegregation.
When newspaper accounts and advocacy organization reports in the early 1970s attempted to provide numerical estimates of racial disparities, standard or consensual methods of disproportionality measurement had not yet been developed. Statistics used to illustrate differences in suspension over time or between racial categories were inconsistent until at least the 1980s. Some of the methods used did in fact reflect approaches that would later become accepted measures of disproportionality, such as what came to be known as the risk index, composition index, the risk difference, or the relative risk/risk ratio. Thus, any approaches that reflect currently accepted methodology (as detailed in Bollmer et al., 2014) or more recent statistical approaches, such as odds ratios drawn from logistic regression, were counted for purposes of this chapter. Simple frequency counts (e.g., Black students received 1100 suspensions and White students 750) were excluded, as they provide no common standard for assessing the extent of disproportionality.
Although expulsion data had been collected for a number of years, this was the first OCR collection that included both expulsion and suspension data.
While this chapter does not address intersectional issues that magnify the history and current state of discipline disparities for Black African American students, adults, and communities, we must acknowledge the historical relationship between disability and Blackness and the ways in which these relationships show up in school discipline and the carceral system. A 2016 survey of prison inmates revealed that over 20% of Black prisoners have been self-identified with disabilities (Maruschak et al., 2021). The issue of policing Black bodies is an essential discussion to the larger conversation of discipline disparities in and out of schools and as Thompson stated (2021): “understanding the scope and nuances of policing Black disabled bodies is necessary to craft solutions that will help undo the centuries of aggression, violence, and denial of rights that have wrongfully led to the trauma and deaths of far too many individuals.”
The Drug-Free Schools and Communities Act Amendments of 1989 amended the Drug-Free Schools and Communities Act of 1986 (the Act) to revise funding distribution for certain programs. It authorized appropriations for FY 1991 through 1993 for a new emergency grants program, added specified new requirements relating to distribution of appropriations, required State educational agencies to use specified additional amounts to make grants to local educational agencies for certain programs, and revised the use of State program funds to include grants to promote and establish drug-free school zones, https://www.congress.gov/bill/101st-congress/house-bill/3614
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Skiba, R., White, A. (2022). Ever Since Little Rock: The History of Disciplinary Disparities in America’s Schools. In: Gage, N., Rapa, L.J., Whitford, D.K., Katsiyannis, A. (eds) Disproportionality and Social Justice in Education. Springer Series on Child and Family Studies. Springer, Cham. https://doi.org/10.1007/978-3-031-13775-4_1
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