Trump turns schools into armed camps

ACLU study finds that as minority students come to outnumber whites, they also face harsher discipline and suspensions

 (Shutterstock)

(Shutterstock)

By Ted Cox

A new study by the American Civili Liberties Union finds that, for the first time, students of color outnumber white students nationwide, but that individually those minorities face far higher chances that they'll be severely disciplined or suspended.

In some ways, this is nothing new. The Obama administration made an issue of how minority students were more prone to being disciplined and suspended, leading to attempts to address what soon became known as the school-to-prison pipeline.

But the ACLU analysis released Wednesday, in conjunction with the UCLA Civil Rights Project, charges that the Trump administration is deliberately using "flawed data on school shootings to emphasize a need for more school discipline — which has turned schools into militarized places that deprive students of color of an equal education."

The heightened risk minority students face extends to Illinois, although it's not as pronounced as in other states, especially across the South.

First, though, the ACLU study, "Race, Discipline, and Safety at U.S. Public Schools," touts that "for the first time in history, public schools across America serve mostly children of color." Using the most recent national data available, for the 2015-16 school year, it finds that white students made up 49 percent of the total, with Hispanics at 26 percent, African Americans at 15 percent, and Asian Americans at 5 percent, with multiracial students and those identifying as family members of American tribes or Pacific islanders making up the rest.

In the latest Illinois State Board of Education Report Card, for the 2016-17 school year, the state is as usual the nation in miniature, with white students at 49 percent, Hispanics at 26, African Americans at 17, and Asians at 5.

Yet the ACLU study finds that minority students are far more likely to be disciplined, citing that "the amount of lost educational opportunities is particularly severe for students of color. Dramatic disparities exist at the school, district, state, and national levels. California for example enrolls four times as many white students than black students. Yet the total number of instruction days lost by black students due to suspension was nearly the same as the number of days lost by whites (141,000 for blacks compared with 151,000 for whites)."

A national map divided by county shows the discipline problem pronounced across the South — light colors indicate more suspensions — while Illinois would appear relatively "normal." But even there the state average is that for every 100 students, 17 days are lost to suspensions.

 (American Civil Liberties Union)

(American Civil Liberties Union)

For every 100 African-American students in Illinois, however, 51 days on average were lost on a school year, or about a half-day suspension a year for every African-American student. All other racial demographics were below the statewide average.

That's not right.

Using the map as a guide, the worst offender was Carroll County along the Mississippi River south of Galena. For every 100 students countywide, 127 days were lost to suspension, an average of more than a day of suspension for every student. But every African-American student averaged 8.73 days of suspension for the school year, while each Hispanic student was suspended on average 2.76 days a year.

Other counties topping more than a half-day of suspension a year for each student included Vermillion, with 70 days of suspension for every 100 students, with each African American averaging 2.27 days and each student identifying with an American tribe getting 1.64 days; Stephenson, with each student averaging .62 days of suspension and African Americans 1.97; Macon, averaging .61 for all students and 1.43 for African Americans; Winnebago, with an average of .53 days of suspension a student and 1.48 for African Americans; St. Clair, averaging .53 a student and 1.16 for African Americans; and Peoria, a half-day of suspension for each student, 1.3 for African Americans.

That's the data for Illinois. Nationally, the ACLU study charged that police officers outnumber social workers in schools, 27,000-23,000, with millions of students attending "schools with cops but no counselor, social worker, or nurse." It charged that students with disabilities were also more prone to being suspended than their classmates. Finally, it discovered: "Every public school in the country was also required to report occurrences of school shootings on campus, regardless of injury. Our research and follow up with the schools found this data to be mostly erroneous.

"Over 230 schools reported school shootings," the study added. "However, two school districts mistakenly reported each of their schools as having a shooting. The data from these two districts accounted for 63 of the reported shootings."

The ACLU accused the Trump administration and Education Secretary Betsy DeVos of blindly following the skewed data to score political points. "The administration reported on the number of school shootings without checking for errors, potentially inflating the number of school shootings by the hundreds," the study charged. "Instead of proceeding with care, the administration is now using the flawed data on school shootings to emphasize a need for more school discipline — which has turned schools into militarized places that deprive students of color of an equal education."

DeVos has attempted to roll back the Obama administration's "Rethink School Discipline" policies. Trump himself, of course, has made an issue of arming teachers.

"These insights are shocking but critical to understanding the pervasiveness of harmful school climates,” said Amir Whitaker, staff attorney for the ACLU of Southern California. “As the federal government considers using tax dollars for guns in school, these findings highlight ways our nation’s public schools are already strapped for important resources, and too often emphasize punishments — disproportionately for students of color."