SCHOOL DISCIPLINE Racial Divide Widens

Article excerpt

Byline: John OAEConnor Associated Press

SPRINGFIELD u In the decade since mass protests over the punishment of six black students in Decatur, the stateAEs racial gap in discipline has split wide open. ItAEs such a gaping hole that now more than half of all Illinois children suspended from public schools are black, even though they represent less than one-fifth of the enrollment, according to an Associated Press analysis.

Expulsions also have disproportionately hit blacks, worrying education experts and state lawmakers about the effect of so many minority students missing classroom time.

The Rev. Jesse Jackson fixed the nationAEs attention on the disparity when he led protests in November 1999 over two-year expulsions of six Eisenhower High School students for brawling in the bleachers at a football game. Joined by thousands of people who marched the streets of Decatur, the civil rights leader questioned whether discipline policies were fair to all students.

The AP analysis of state discipline records shows the racial divide has only worsened since then, from ChicagoAEs troubled schools to rural areas with few minority students:

* Suspensions of black students have escalated by 75 percent since 1999, while those of white students have dropped more than 5 percent.

* When it comes to the more serious punishment of expulsion, white students are kicked out 16 percent more often than a decade ago, but black students are expelled 56 percent more often.

* Whites make up nearly three-fifths of public school enrollment, yet in the most recent data, they account for one-third or fewer of both suspensions and expulsions.

The proportion of blacks facing discipline has soared in all parts of the state even though the percentage of IllinoisAE black enrollment has steadily

fallen in the past decade.

Hispanic suspensions are up, too, but so is IllinoisAE Hispanic population. Latino students now slightly outnumber blacks with 20 percent of school enrollment, but account for just more than 17 percent of all suspensions in the latest data, compared to 51.3 percent for blacks.

Experts see many factors at work: cultural differences between students and teachers, poverty, academic achievement, problems with classroom management and teacher training. They also see the possibility of racial bias in the way students are treated.

"ThereAEs a lot more going on than poverty and the characteristics of kids," said Russell Skiba, an Indiana University researcher who studies school discipline.

State Rep. Marlow Colvin, a Chicago Democrat, predicting a legislative response next spring, said the numbers show not "an ounce of objectivity in terms of how these policies are applied to children of color. The facts are overwhelming in terms of whoAEs being targeted."

It matters little where in the state a child answers the bell. Whether itAEs a poor urban district, a rich suburban district, or a rural area, blacks are getting written up in proportions far exceeding their white classmates.

In the largely black and Latino Chicago Public Schools, for example, suspensions for those groups jumped more than 150 percent in a decade; white suspensions were up 44 percent. …