After a middle school student was tased last year, the Southern Poverty Law Center decided to take a closer look at Dothan City Schools and how they discipline their students. What they found was a racial disparity that is nothing short of shocking, as SPLC staff attorney Natalie Lyons explains.
We had also seen a media report about a Dothan child being tased by a school resource officer for conduct that did not appear to be assaultive or violent, so we decided to take a deeper look at the district as a whole,” Lyons said. “When we looked further into the district, other issues popped up, including racial disparities in discipline, and specifically, suspensions and referrals to the alternative school.”
In Dothan City Schools, approximately 55 percent of the student population is African-American. While black students make up just a little over half the student body, they represent 85 percent of in-school suspensions, 87 percent of out-of-school suspensions, 90 percent of the referrals to alternative school and 100 percent of the expulsions.
In addition, students with disabilities were frequently disciplined for behavior that is a direct result of their disability.
Throughout the country, new research has shown that black students are four times more likely to be suspended from school as their white classmates.
The SPLC has contacted the Dothan City School Board and requested that they change their disciplinary code, and more specifically, drop the zero-tolerance policies that lead to students being expelled.
Zero tolerance policies don’t work,” said Lyons. “We now have decades of research and experience showing that putting kids out of the classroom decreases academic achievement, increases behavior problems and makes it much more likely that a child will drop out and end up in the juvenile justice system.
Lyons pointed out that in school districts such as Baltimore it has been found that keeping students in school results in graduation rates going up and juvenile crime going down.
Dothan City Schools have the third highest rate of referrals of African-American students to law enforcement in the state of Alabama and is one of the school districts with the highest rates of disproportionate law enforcement referrals of black students.
According to Lyons, it is not yet clear how other districts in the state compare, as the analysis of statewide data is just beginning. She added that the SPLC started paying special attention to Dothan City Schools after seeing the shocking data on explosions and referrals to law enforcement.
Dothan City School Superintendent Chuck Ledbetter said the school system will take the SPLC’s recommendations “under advisement.” Changes to the disciplinary code are expected to be presented to the board for review in July. Ledbetter agrees that it is time to put an end to zero-tolerance policies. How much change this will lead to in reality remains to be seen.
Featured image via Georges Bay Positive Outlook