Punishment Disparities Remain Minority Students Expelled More Often Than Whites; Charges of Infractions Vary

Article excerpt

Byline: Melissa Jenco Daily Herald Staff Writer

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CORRECTION/date 06-14-2005: A chart in Monday's editions of the Daily Herald called "Student discipline and the racial divide" should have included a note explaining that the statistics quoted for Cook County applied only to school districts in northwest suburban Cook County.

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SPRINGFIELD - The 1999 expulsion of six black students in Decatur set off a surge of reports showing minorities in Illinois and elsewhere being expelled at much higher rates than white students.

That trend continues, according to the latest state records.

Black students in the suburbs were nine times more likely to be expelled than white students, and minorities as a whole were four times more likely to be expelled than whites, according to the latest figures from the Illinois State Board of Education.

Suspensions followed a similar pattern. Suburban black students were 4.7 times more likely to be suspended than white students, and minorities as a whole were twice as likely to be suspended.

No one seems to agree on exactly why this is occurring. Experts have researched differences in economic backgrounds and culture. Some politicians say it's simply racial attitudes.

The one thing they agree on is statistics show there is a clear difference.

"It almost appears that there's a window being opened and some people either wittingly or unwittingly are pushing African-American males out of schools and into prisons," said state Rep. Monique Davis, a Chicago Democrat, who is black.

Racial disparities in discipline are not just a suburban trend. Statewide, during the 2002-03 school year, the expulsion and suspension rate for black students was three times higher than for white students. There were similar disparities for Latino students, too, according to a Daily Herald analysis of state records.

Expulsions in Illinois public schools peaked at 2,779 in 1999, the year of the Decatur incident.

Decatur's infamous expulsions occurred after a fight broke out among seven black students in the grandstands of a football game. Videotaped footage of the brawl saturated television news and district officials voted to expel six students. The seventh withdrew from classes. In Decatur, the expulsions provoked a wave of protests and marches led by the Rev. Jesse Jackson, but federal courts later upheld the expulsions. The expulsions were criticized as an overreaction to a brawl in which no weapons were used and no one was seriously injured.

The following year, Illinois expulsions dropped to 2,058 - the lowest in recent years. But ever since, expulsions have crept up. In 2003, the most recent year for which data is available, there were 2,530 expulsions.

In some cases, school administrators' hands are tied. Zero- tolerance policies require schools to expel students for infractions such as possession of weapons or drugs. Many of these policies grew out of high-profile school shooting cases across the country. …