In the Sunday’s edition of the Star-Telegram, the headliner read: “Does Zero Tolerance go too far?” Staff writer Terry Webster examines the net effect of school’s “zero tolerance” policy since the Columbine shootings in 1999, and how school disciplinary practices have actually panned out in the state of Texas, and its impact on minority students.
In “Small breaches, big penalties”, the reporter cites a Texas Education Agency report that shows between the 2000-01 and 2005-06 student discipline reports have climbed from 1.7 million to 2.6 million, which follows a national trend. A sample of the type of disciplinary actions being taken includes a middle school student was arrested on felony charges of making a “terroristic threat” after removing a fire alarm cover, and a high school student sent to disciplinary boot camp after a cigarette butt was found in her car. (Disciplinary boot camps are like prisons).
In a related article, “Minorities are disciplined at a disproportionate rate”, Webster looks also at the case of Shaquanda Cotton, the 15-year old Paris native, convicted of felony assault and locked up for a year for pushing a teacher’s aide. The reporter writes: “Of all student groups, blacks are most likely to be expelled, suspended out of school, or placed in disciplinary alternative education programs, data from the Texas Education Agency show.”
In Fort Worth, black students account for 27.8 percent of the student population. Yet 43.6 percent of students disciplined are black. This report comes amid a hotly debated issue about why 617 students in the district failed to graduate. Fort Worth school Trustee Jean McClung said sadly, “We have failed African-Americans.”
Commentary by Eddie Griffin
The pattern of African-American students being disciplined in disproportion numbers come as no surprise to anyone who has been watching the trend. As for the Fort Worth ISD, in May 2006, we went before the school board to register a protest about the low performance and high disciplinary incidents related to black students. In April 2007, we issued a STATE OF EMERGENCY, calling attention to these problems.
We have many reasons to believe that black students can perform as well others, behaviorally and academically. In other words, there is no mark of the beast on black children to cause them to be treated like lepers. We have too many successful alternative models as proof.
The disconnection may appear to be in the area of cognition. Educators, administrators, and teachers may not be conscientiously aware of this disproportional punishment leveled against African-American students. Or, they take it as something “natural”. Therefore, there appears to be no conscious effort to understand why.
By my estimation, we have already lost half of our young black men, between the ages of 18 to 25. And, there appears to be no interdiction strategy, but rather a playing of the blame game like musical chairs.
There is a solution, even if we consider it as Mission Impossible. Our next assignment, whether we accept it or not, will be to find the best education model and teaching system that work for black boys and implement it- above, beyond, and irrespective of obstacles, debates, and inadequacies.
Keyword: Baby Moses Project