The Department of Education (DOE) recently released new data showing that Hispanic and other minority students might be affected disproportionally by zero tolerance policies. Are these policies effective? And what can you do to ensure your child is being disciplined appropriately?
Though Hispanic students account for only 24% of enrollment in United States schools, they accounted for 37% of school-related arrests in 2009. The survey found that more than 70% of students involved in school-related arrests or referrals to law enforcement were Hispanic or black. It’s obvious that something’s at play.
“The undeniable truth is that the everyday educational experience for too many students of color violates the principle of equity at the heart of the American promise,” Education Secretary Arne Duncan told Bloomberg.com following the release of the DOE data.
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Mother and TV producer Marisol González experienced this difference in treatment first hand. “My son just graduated from a K-8 Catholic school where 80% of students are Hispanic. The school administration, however, is white-Irish. I always noticed that when white kids did something terrible, they were given the lightest punishment but when a Hispanic kid did something much less horrible, they were punished much more severely,” Marisol said.
“Last year, a Hispanic boy got into some trouble with a white girl. The school was not going to allow him to graduate middle school, until I got involved with the mother and helped her uncover what had happened. I also helped her write emails to leave a written trail. In the end, the girl’s responsibility was brought to light and the kid was allowed to graduate. The problem I see is that most Hispanic parents are afraid of interfering for fear that the teachers or the administration will retaliate against their kids.”
WHAT YOU CAN DO AS A PARENT
Get Informed. Many schools with high Hispanic populations are more likely to have zero-tolerance policies. These policies do not allow administrators to give kids a second chance, and they are seen as sort of the “tough love” policies of modern education. The problem is that they usually don’t work. These policies often have the opposite effect, making teens more likely to lash out and less likely to finish school. According to one study on the effect of these policies, they may actually increase “youth’s criminality by removing them from the school” and the positive support that school offers.
As a parent, you must know your school’s policies and understand whether or not they are working. Print off copies of the DOE report for your own school district. Inform yourself and other parents about the effects of suspensions, expulsions, and arrests on campus so that you can become an advocate for the kids.
Speak Up. Be vocal for your own child, but also for all the students. Join the PTA, if you haven’t already, and don’t be afraid to voice your opinion. Being shy won’t cut it when your child’s educational success is on the line. Call the school administrators, ask questions, demand answers, and if necessary, be that over-involved parent that borders on annoying.
Show and Tell. Show the administrators the research and ask what is being done to change the way they handle their students. If you are uncomfortable with your understanding of your local policies, ask other parents, teachers, or the administrators for help. It’s critical for you to be your child’s advocate and to seek even distribution of disciplinary policies.
“Once they (suspensions) become automatic, we’ve really hurt that child’s chances to receive a high school diploma,” said Dr. Doug Otto the superintendent of Plano Independent School District in Texas in an interview with the New York Times. Just one school suspension can decrease the chances of graduating.
Although teenagers need and demand more independence until they are 18, it’s still your job to know what is happening in school and to intervene on their behalf whenever necessary. Your child’s future depends on your advocacy for them today.