In numerous areas across the United States, and especially California, public schools are seeing an increase in the so called “Discipline Gap”. The Discipline Gap shows differences in students of color and those with a disability and how they compare to Caucasian students with regards to their rates of discipline, focused mostly on suspension rates.
Studies show that both Black and Latino students are suspended at higher rates than Caucasian students. In the 2011-2012 school year public schools in California suspended some 3.5 million students altogether and the figures are showing that the length of suspensions times is also getting longer. In 2010, Castlemont High School in Oakland saw suspension times reach a record 700 days. This meant that on average at least 4 students were out on any school day of the week. Suspensions take away from the learning time in class and seem to have a domino effect in students of color putting them at a greater risk of dropping out of school and ending up in juvenile justice system, especially when leaving a student unsupervised during school hours on suspension. Students who are suspended also see a drop in testing scores and lower attendance.
“I think school is becoming a better place for all students of all races, at our school, a lot of the students take pride in coming to school,” says Justin Chan, John F. Kennedy High School student. “I think it’s because our school talks to our students and make sure that they are doing fine instead of just throwing them out of school.”
It seems as if some schools view certain races or groups of students as criminals, as they enforce such terms on them like suspensions as if they have criminal intent. Many of the suspension are seen on the lowest terms, where students are suspended for being “defiant” in class. This category falls under being disruptive, not participating, or having a bad attitude with the teacher or other students.
Instead of removing these students from classes because it creates a “better learning environment” for the other students, some schools are now figuring out if the students have any problems causing them to be a disruption in class. This is being tested at Castlemont High, where they have started a Restorative Justice Program to hear students out and seek out anyway to help this students succeed in their classes and stay in school. Castlemont has already seen well in the program with lower suspension rates, greater attendance, and higher test scores.
The justice codes at public schools are beginning to change and become less based on criminal intent and based around getting to know students and helping them in any way to keep them away from suspensions. After the justice code at public is changed, and then just maybe the discipline gap at some schools struggle will decrease and close up.