Black and Hispanic students more likely to be suspended than white students, data shows

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Thursday, August 12, 2021
Black and Hispanic students more likely to be suspended, data shows
One piece of data shows about a quarter of the students in HISD are Black, but they're about seven times more likely to end up suspended compared to white students.

HOUSTON, Texas (KTRK) -- The most recent data from the Department of Education paints a grim picture for students of color in Houston-area public schools.

There is severe inequity in discipline, which means Black and Hispanic kids are more likely to be suspended than white students.

Anyone in education will tell you that time spent on task learning in the classroom is critical to a student's success. This means suspension can have a big impact on achievement.

Information collected by the ABC Data Group shows non-white students are more likely to miss school for disciplinary reasons.

Black students, in particular, are bearing the brunt of this.

The state's largest school district, Houston ISD, is a majority minority district.

About a quarter of the students in HISD are Black, but they're about seven times more likely to end up suspended compared to white students.

The most recent data available shows Black HISD students missed 23,699 days of class for disciplinary reasons in a single school year. That number is 21,118 for Hispanic students compared to 1,119 days for their white peers.

When ABC13 looked at each and every school, no matter who makes up their student body, most shared the same problem.

"Should you get in trouble, you are never to talk to the police by yourself. You are never to talk to a school [administrator] by yourself," said Pearland ISD parent Roni Burren.

That was part of a talk she had with her child, Mars, when they became a middle school student in Pearland ISD.

*Editor's Note: A previous version of this story identified Mars as Coby and using he/him personal pronouns. However, Mars is trans non-binary and uses they/them personal pronouns. That change has been reflected throughout the remainder of this story.

"It's heartbreaking, because there's a little bit of innocence you're pulling away from your kid when you have to have those conversations with your kid," said Burren.

Mars was in a district where Black students make up just 15% of the student body but are also almost three times more likely to be suspended than the district's majority of white students.

As a teacher in the same district, Burren said she had to make her child aware that they were more likely to be sent home because of the skin they live in.

"I learned it because I was living it as an educator," she said. "I saw it happening. I saw kids getting in trouble for things that didn't make sense."

Data from the Department of Education confirms what Burren and many other Black parents warn their kids about.

Eyewitness News looked at every school in the Houston metropolitan area and found Black, Hispanic, and non-white students are more likely to lose learning time for disciplinary reasons than white students in two out of every three schools here.

The most extreme disparity affects Black children, who are 5.5 times more likely to get suspended than their white peers.

Non-white students are 2.6 times more likely to lose learning time, and Hispanic students are two times more likely to miss class for disciplinary reasons than white students.

"It's not like Black kids are sort of acting out more than other kids. It's that they're much more likely to be disciplined. I think many people think that, 'Well what are these kids doing wrong?' The fact of the matter is, they're not doing more wrong. They're just more likely to be disciplined," said Dr. Bob Sanborn, an activist for education and children.

Sanborn said pulling these kids out of class causes them to fall behind and become less likely to graduate.

"It has an impact on us economic [and] development-wise, but more importantly, it has an impact on these kids. They're never going to be a part of where we need them to be in society," said Sanborn.

The information, however, isn't new.

It is part of the reason Pearland ISD and HISD prohibit suspensions prior to third grade, unless required by law.

Districts describe it as a "last resort," but the data shows it's still happening frequently.

"What's very clear in our education system is that the squeaky wheel is very important, and parents need to be a squeaky wheel," said Sanborn. "They need to be in there saying, 'This is not fair.' White, Latino, and African American parents all need to be unified in this. That this is not fair, and we need to do more about it."

In response, Burren said, "Sadly, until white people get enraged about this, I don't really see that it will change. That's just the way it works."

Both have done academic research into the discrepancies. They both said the numbers aren't surprising, and neither is the lack of outrage.

"It is not something, I think, white families are losing sleep over at night. It doesn't burn them up inside. It isn't fire in their belly," said Burren.

That's why she goes back to advocacy. Burren called it her best option against implicit bias and racism in the school system.

"Them knowing from jump: We are not starting a disciplinary record for my kid, because that's what it is. I know how these things go, because again, I've been a teacher. You're sort of having to start off the year going, 'Don't try my kid. Don't go here with my baby. Just don't.'"

The educator is standing up for Black and Hispanic students until there's enough concern to change a system earning a failing grade.

In a sign of progress, some schools in our area are implementing a different type of discipline, which can help teachers and administrators get to the root of bad behavior and avoid suspensions.

However, each district has its own code of conduct. That means it largely allows school leaders to use their own judgement.

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