Byline: Teresa Mask Daily Herald Staff Writer
Minority students in the suburbs are expelled at a far greater rate than their white counterparts, according to statistics from the Illinois State Board of Education.
In the six counties surrounding Chicago, blacks, American Indians, Asians and Hispanics comprised 32 percent of the student population last year. Yet those same students were 64 percent of the suburbs' expulsions, a Daily Herald analysis found.
There also was a disparity in nearly all of the individual counties.
While Hispanics made up 8 percent of public school students in DuPage County during the 1998-99 school year, they represented 23 percent of the county's expulsions.
Likewise, in Lake County, where blacks made up 9 percent of public school students, 29 percent of those expelled were black.
In Will County, 15 percent of the students were black, while 41 percent of those expelled were black.
A study released this week by the Applied Research Center, which studies educational policy, found that the expulsion rate of blacks across the country is greater than whites. In some cases, blacks were expelled three to five times more frequently than white students. The study did not examine expulsion rates for Hispanics.
"We've found that white kids and African-American kids are treated very different when it comes to small infractions," said Libero Della Piana, senior research associate for the Oakland, Calif.-based institute.
While racism may be a simple answer - and may in fact be part of the explanation - educators say a complex matrix of issues may play a role in the skewed numbers.
"If you use race as a measuring stick, it becomes racist by the very nature of the measurement," said Thomas M.P. Hannigan, president of the Mundelein High School District 120 school board.
He and others say many reasons may help explain the inequity, including:
- Economic class and family status. Children are under more stress, and may behave less appropriately, in families with major financial or personal problems.
- Cultural issues between students and administrators. Some suggest that, if a faculty is more diverse, the expulsion rate might be better balanced and the perception of racism minimized.
- Greater involvement by minorities in gangs, since gang involvement is one of the top reasons for suburban expulsions. Educators say feelings of alienation in a predominately white school may entice minorities to join gangs comprised of members of their ethnic groups.
Hannigan suggests a more accurate comparison would be to look at who was expelled compared to their household income and whether the nuclear family is intact.
"From those stats, you'd see far more disproportion," Hannigan said.
Still, he's not completely ruling out discrimination.
"I think that it is possible that there can be a bias on behalf of the investigator," Hannigan said. "I've been an attorney far too long not to believe there are communities in Lake County who target ethnics for arrests."
He suggests, for example, a white woman with a child in the car may be less likely to be stopped for failing to wear a seat belt than a minority. "It's an extremely difficult, layered and complex problem, and I think that our whole society suffers from that kind of bias," he said.
Across Illinois, minorities made up 39 percent of public school students last year and were 58 percent of student expulsions.
Race was a largely unspoken issue this fall in Decatur, when civil rights leader Jesse Jackson fought the expulsions of several minority students, saying the punishment did not fit the crime.
For the most part, expulsions rarely occur in area schools. And when they do, the racial composition varies from year to year.
But in some individual districts, the figures are consistent with the overall disparity between a students' race and likelihood of expulsion. …