By Freddie Allen
NNPA Washington Correspondent
WASHINGTON (NNPA) – Even before they typically learn to read, Black preschoolers – some as young as 4 years old – are taught a disgusting lesson: They are three times more likely to be suspended from school than their White classmates, according to a recent study by the civil rights division of the U.S. Department of Education.
“Black students are suspended and expelled at a rate three times greater than white students. On average, 5 percent of White students are suspended, compared to 16 percent of Black students,” the Department of Education study found.
Black children account for 18 percent of the nation’s preschoolers, but nearly half of students in that age group suspended more than once, compared to White children who represent 43 percent of preschoolers and 26 percent of students suspended more than once, according to the report.
Daniel Losen, director of the Center for Civil Rights Remedies for the Civil Rights Project at UCLA, told the Associated Press: “Just kicking them out of school is denying them access to educational opportunity at such a young age. Then, as they come in for kindergarten, they are just that much less prepared.”
Florida, Indiana, North Carolina, Rhode Island, and South Carolina reported the widest gaps in the racial disparity suspensions between Black and White students. New Jersey, New York and North Dakota reported the smallest gaps.
Black students also account for nearly 30 percent of students referred to law enforcement in what many civil rights advocates have called the school-to-prison pipeline.
“Black students represent 16 percent of student enrollment, 27 percent of students referred to law enforcement, and 31 percent of students subjected to a school-related arrest. In comparison, white students represent 51 percent of students enrolled, 41 percent of referrals to law enforcement, and 39 percent of those subjected to school-related arrests,” stated the report.
For the first time in 14 years, the Education Department collected data from all 97,000 public schools and its 16,500 school districts, responsible for 49 million students.
“This data collection shines a clear, unbiased light on places that are delivering on the promise of an equal education for every child and places where the largest gaps remain. In all, it is clear that the United States has a great distance to go to meet our goal of providing opportunities for every student to succeed,” Secretary of Education Arne Duncan said in a press release. “As the President’s education budget reflects in every element – from preschool funds to Pell Grants to Title I to special education funds – this administration is committed to ensuring equity of opportunity for all.”
The Education Department report comes on the heels of research funded by the Atlantic Philanthropies and the Open Society Foundations that showed that implicit bias contributes to racial disparities in student suspension rates from kindergarten to the 12th grade.
In a study titled, “The Essence of Innocence: Consequences of Dehumanizing Black Children,” researchers from the University of California, the National Center for Post-Traumatic Stress Disorder, and the University of Pennsylvania, concluded that after 9 years old, “Black children and adults were rated as significantly less innocent than White children and adults or children and adults generally.”
A majority of the survey participants were White women, the same group that is also over-represented among public school teachers.
Researchers found that Black boys may be perceived as more than 4.53 years older than their actual age, which meant that a 13 year-old might be “misperceived” to be an adult by law enforcement officials.
The report continued: “These outcomes are particularly worrisome for Black children, who are 18 times more likely than White children to be sentenced as adults and who represent 58% of children sentenced to adult facilities, the report stated.
In recent speeches Attorney General Eric Holder has urged school administrators, lawmakers and parents to work together to dismantle the school-to-prison pipeline that often has far-reaching consequences for young people that get swept up into the criminal justice system.
Holder said that the report was critical and showed that racial disparities in school discipline policies are not only well-documented among older students, but actually begin during preschool.
“Every data point represents a life impacted and a future potentially diverted or derailed,” Holder said. “This Administration is moving aggressively to disrupt the school-to-prison pipeline in order to ensure that all of our young people have equal educational opportunities.”