Riverside psychiatrist says while disturbing, findings are not new
By Chris Levister –
A new government study suggests that as a student, you’re far more likely to face arrest if you happen to be African American than if you’re Caucasian.
The numbers are jarring. Black students are more than three-and-a-half times as likely as white students to be suspended or expelled, according to the Education Department's Office for Civil Rights' survey, known as the “Civil Rights Data Collection.” More than 70 percent of students arrested in school or handed over to law enforcement were black or Hispanic.
Surrounded by a bevy of lawmakers and civil rights leaders in the iconic Founder's Library of historically black Howard University, Education Secretary Arne Duncan and Assistant Secretary for Civil Rights Russlynn Ali presented new data from a national survey of more than 72,000 schools serving 85% of the nation’s students. The report released Tuesday is the first of its kind, representing findings from school districts nationwide.
“The sad fact is that minority students across America face much harsher discipline than non-minorities—even within the same school,” says Duncan, though he was careful to note that the US isn’t “alleging overt discrimination in some or all of these cases.”
The disparities are also inherent in access: Twenty-nine percent of high-minority schools offered calculus, compared to 55 percent of schools with smaller black and Hispanic populations. Civil rights advocates expect this data, collected during the 2009-10 school year, will provide new ammunition for compliance reviews, advocacy and lawsuits involving educational fairness in America.
"The power of the data is not only in the numbers themselves, but in the impact it can have when married with the courage and the will to change. The undeniable truth is that the everyday educational experience for many students of color violates the principle of equity at the heart of the American promise. It is our collective duty to change that,” Duncan said. “We are issuing a challenge to educators and community leaders across America to work together to address these inequities,” Duncan said, referencing President Barack Obama's goal to "lead the world in college graduates by 2020."
Federally, schools are judged solely by test scores, which have shown pervasive achievement gaps among students of different races. But mental health professionals and civil rights activists say that information doesn’t tell the full story of underserved students facing disproportionate hurdles to school success.
"We could paper the walls of the White House with reports that have been made on this issue," says Richard Kotomori M.D., a Riverside, Adolescent and Adult psychiatrist, and founder of Mood Daily.com, an online interactive mental health assessment tool.
Kotomori points to similar studies done as far back as 1972 and 1995 and as recent as a 2011 study conducted by the Civil Rights Project at UCLA in conjunction with the National Education Policy Center at the University of Colorado which sought to challenge a common misconception “that some children — especially black children — simply misbehave more than others.”
According to the report “Discipline Policies, Successful Schools, and Racial Justice”, more than 30 percent of black students caught using, or in possession of, cellphones for the first time were suspended, while only 17 percent of white students who committed the same infraction were suspended.
“Clearly these findings are highly suggestive of racism and discrimination,” Kotomori said. “But this issue is more about justice, fairness and America’s problem with race than trying to speculate on the motives responsible for this alarming trend.”
“If you watch television, surf the Internet or listen to school yard conversations you see and hear the blatant bombardment of racist views about black people to include the President of the United States. The real challenge is getting past a culture of racism, denial and rhetoric and doing something about it,” said Kotomori.
He said psychiatrists, academicians, educators, attorneys, and children’s advocates have known for decades that so-called zero tolerance school policies is unfair, is contrary to a child’s developmental opportunities and often results in the criminalization of children.
Kotomori said children must be afforded opportunities to develop strong, trusting relationships with key adults in their lives, particularly those in their school. He said “take no prisoners” school policies foster an environment where there are no opportunities to bond with adults and provide troubled students with an unlimited amount of unsupervised free time. He said callously and subjectively meting out punishment for minor offenses reinforces what you’ve always been told that you are a violent criminal.
“The result is the vilified child develops a negative self image. You identify with this violent person and you become that."
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