Black students in the south get suspended more frequently than their peers in Northern or Western States. Georgia and Florida lead the pack, according to a report from the University of Pennsylvania.
Shaun Harper grew up in Thomasville, Georgia and went to public school. He says he was a good kid, but that didn’t stop him from getting suspended once. That was years ago—and Harper says he really doesn’t remember why he got booted from school.
“I talked with my mom a couple weeks ago, and I said, ‘hey, remember when I get kicked out of school?' And we both remembered, but we couldn’t remember why. And that, I think, is a national trend," he said.
Today, Harper is the Executive Director of the University of Pennsylvania’s Center for the Study of Race & Equity in Education. He recently co-authored a study finding black students in the South are more likely to be suspended from school than their peers. The gap is particularly wide in Georgia and Florida. In Georgia 37 percent of students are black, but they make up 67 percent of student suspensions. In Florida, 23 percent of students are black, but make up 37 percent of suspensions.
“The research is clear on this that black children especially, get suspended from school for more subjective reasons, like the kid had an attitude , or the kid was goofing off, or sorta loitering in the halls. these sort of, zero-tolerance approach to school discipline which treats all offenses equally, I think really get a lot of kids sent home from school.”
The report calls out districts with the worst disparities. In Georgia, that would be Dade, Lumpkin and Murray Counties. And in Florida, the districts of Hardee, Martin, Desoto and Glades. In North Florida’s Wakulla and Jefferson Counties, the suspension disparity is almost non-existent. But Harper says that’s a coincidence.
“We were trying to determine if the inequities were more pronounced in urban vs. rural districts or larger vs. smaller schools or schools where there were more or less black students. And fairly consistently, we’ve found this is a problem in all schooling context.” Harper says other studies have shown when kids are out of school, they fall behind, their test scores drop and they are more likely to end up in the school-to-prison pipeline.