II. Racial Disparities in Public School Discipline, Racialized Enforcement of Zero-tolerance Policies, and the School to Prison Pipeline Are the Modern Implements of a System of White Privilege That Has Transformed Most Black K-12 Schools into Institutions of Custody and Control.

If the financing of American higher education institutions by the slave economy was a first-generation brute demonstration of white supremacy, and if the academic theories these institution promoted in the service of Jim Crow were a thinly disguised second-generation expression of white superiority, then today, the racialization of K-12 school discipline, the discriminatory application of so-called zero tolerance policies, and the transformation of primarily Black public primary and secondary schools into institutions of custody and control serve as third-generation instruments of white privilege.


A. Racial Disparities in School Discipline Fortify White Privilege at the Expense of Black Students and Low-Income Students.


Discipline practices in schools affect the social quality of the educational environment, and the ability of children to achieve the academic and social gains essential for success in a 21st century society. FN64 Loss of classroom instruction time damages student performance. FN65 One recent study found that missing three days of school in a month before taking the National Assessment of Educational Progress translated into fourth graders scoring a full grade level lower in reading on this test. FN66 New research shows that higher suspension rates are closely correlated with higher dropout and delinquent rates, having tremendous economic costs for the suspended students as well as for society as a whole. FN67

In K-12 schools throughout the U.S., discipline is disproportionately applied to young Black boys and girls. Research has shown that, typically, the highest suspension rates are for Black males, followed by Black females and/or Latino males. FN68 In regards to suspension rates for students with disabilities at the secondary level, Black males are at the highest risk for suspension at 33.8%, while Black females with disabilities are suspended at 22.5%, which is higher than white males with disabilities at both the elementary and secondary level. FN69 Unfortunately, the national rates for suspensions by race at the secondary level show a darker picture. Black males face the greatest risk for suspension at 28.4%, which is 19 points higher than that of white males at 9.4%. FN70 Meanwhile, Black females suffer the second highest suspension rate at 17.9%, compared to white females' suspension rate of 3.8% - higher than all other females and higher than all male subgroups, except Black males. FN71 Overall, Black students receive more harsh punitive measures (suspension, expulsion, corporal punishment) and less mild discipline than their non-minority peers for the very same conduct, even when controlling for socioeconomic status. FN72

These appalling racial disparities in school discipline at the elementary and secondary level start in the earliest years of schooling. FN73 In May 2014, the U.S. Department of Education's Office for Civil Rights studied data from every one of the nation's 97,000 public schools. Among the key and most startling findings is that Black students represent 18% of preschool enrollment but 42% of pre-school students suspended once, and 48% of the pre-school students suspended more than once. FN74 On the other hand, white children represent 43% of preschool enrollments, but 28% of preschool children suspended once and 26% of preschool children suspended more than once. FN75 The report noted:

[P]articular concern around discipline for our nation's young men and boys of color, who are disproportionately affected by suspensions and zero-tolerance policies in schools. Suspended students are less likely to graduate on time and more likely to be suspended again. They are also more likely to repeat a grade, drop out, and become involved in the juvenile justice system. FN76


B. Racialization of Zero Tolerance Policies Accentuates White Privilege in K-12 Education, and Feeds Black Students into the “School-to-Prison Pipeline.”


The term zero tolerance describes a range of policies that seek to impose severe sanctions in schools - typically suspension and expulsion - for minor offenses in hopes of preventing more serious ones. FN77 Under these policies, students may also suffer harsher penalties and are referred to juvenile authorities. FN78

The implementation of zero tolerance policies has resulted in a disproportionate number of Black students being suspended, expelled, or attending alternative schools. FN79 The empirical research has demonstrated that Black youth, especially males, are punished disproportionately compared to their white counterparts. FN80 The harm has been so great that it has resulted in what has been termed the “School to Prison Pipeline.” FN81 According to the Advancement Project, “arrests in school represent the most direct route into the school-to-prison pipeline, but out-of-school suspensions, expulsions, and referrals to alternate schools also push students out of school and closer to a future in the juvenile and criminal justice system.” FN82

From 2009 to 2010, it was reported that “[a]lthough Black students made up only 18 percent of those enrolled in the schools sampled, they accounted for 35 [%] of those suspended once, 46[%] of those suspended more than once and 39 [%] of all expulsions.” FN83 The disconnect between white teachers and Black students often exacerbates these policies. FN84 White teachers feel more threatened by young Black boys, seeing them as disruptive, and in need of discipline. FN85 On the other hand, teachers and school officials have a tendency of defining disruptive white youth as in need of medical intervention rather than zero tolerance consequences. FN86 For young Black girls, any deviation from the social norms that define female behavior according to a narrow, white middle-class definition of femininity, brands them as non-conformative, defiant, and disruptive thereby subjecting them to some form of criminalizing response. FN87 The consequences of dumping promising Black male and female students out of schools and into the streets are disastrous. Overall, this equates to Black students suffering from less time in an academic classroom due to zero tolerance policies, which subsequently leads to feelings of alienation from school, elevated dropout rates, and alarming incarceration rates. FN88


C. Racial Disparities in School Discipline, the Racialization of Zero Tolerance Policies, and the School to Prison Pipeline Explicitly Reify the Narrative of Black Criminality and Implicitly Reinforce the Narrative of White Privilege.


Zero tolerance policies and the disproportionate discipline of Black children in the K-12 environment are key examples of the policies defining today's “School-to-Prison Pipeline” making it more likely for Black students to face criminal involvement with the juvenile courts than to attain quality education. FN89 Black students are more likely to reap the consequences of the “School-to-Prison Pipeline” because whites perceive Black students as “threatening” and “deviant;” FN90 words all too familiar in the lexicon and mythology of Black criminality. FN91

The narrative of Black criminality perpetuates the use of race as a proxy for criminal propensity. Stereotypes of Black people as violent originated in slavery, are perpetuated today by the media, and are reinforced by the huge numbers of Black people under criminal justice supervision. FN92 “Slavery defined Black men as sexual predators and created the image of the violent man, who is the rapist, and who is therefore the target of the law, as a Black man.” FN93 After the end of slavery, the notion that the freed slaves would become lawless bands of savages served as popular justification for lynchings and anti-Black riots. FN94 Today, police killings of Blacks in the form of “justifiable” homicides appear to be a part of America's social milieu. FN95 Although, no one knows just how many people are killed by the police nationwide FN96, the disproportionate representation of Blacks among the dead victims is chilling. FN97 A Black person is slain by law enforcement and security services with guns once every twenty-eight hours. FN98 Young Black males are twenty-one times more likely to be shot dead by police than their white counterparts. FN99 Moreover, in 2014, there was extensive media coverage of police killings of unarmed Black people, including Eric Garner, Michael Brown, John Crawford, Tamir Rice, and Levar Jones. FN100

Though the media sensationalized each of these tragic murders, the driving force behind the sensationalism was arguably two-fold. First, whites were not punished for the homicides they committed. FN101 Second, whites tended to believe the killings were justified, while Blacks did not. FN102 Horrifically, whites' perceived justification of these recent killings mirror the perceived justification of the racialized lynchings and murders of Blacks by whites throughout the nation's history. Each instance became a manifestation of white privilege that exemplified patterns and institutional expressions of social domination and Black criminality. FN103 Each unpunished killing was treated as a symbol of overall social injustice; FN104 one that enforced white privilege FN105 and solidified its presence in the lived experiences of Blacks via the judicial and extra-judicial decision of whites to murder and dehumanize unarmed Black citizens. FN106