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Does racial bias in America begin inside public school classrooms?

Judge for yourself. A new study shows that America’s teachers and administrators frequently address behavioral problems with students strictly along racial lines.

The study, which was recently released by the journal Sociology of Education, shows that African-American students with behavioral problems are far more likely to be punished with expulsions, suspensions — and sometimes even arrested and forced into the criminal justice system — while white students are routinely steered into special education programs and treated for learning disabilities when they behave badly.

Black educators and parents say the study confirms their beliefs. For years, civil rights activists have argued that a racially biased culture in the nation’s school system has worked against Black students but some of their complaints have usually been dismissed.

A new study conducted by Pennsylvania State University assistant professor of sociology and criminology David Ramey, suggests that there is a disturbing pattern that leads to the “criminalization” of young Black students.

Ramey analyzed the rates of suspensions, expulsions and police referrals at 59,000 schools and 6,000 school districts across the country and concluded that poor schools that have more Black and minority students tend to punish students rather than seek medical or psychological interventions for them.

“The bulk of my earlier research looked at how, for the same minor levels of misbehaviors — for example, classroom disruptions, talking back — white kids tend to get viewed as having ADHD, or having some sort of behavioral problem, while black kids are viewed as being unruly and unwilling to learn,” Ramey said in a Penn State University press release.

The Sociology of Education report comes as the U.S. Department of Justice released a report last month blasting the Family Court of St. Louis (Missouri) County saying that Black youths are treated more harshly than whites and Black juveniles are often deprived of constitutional rights. The report raises nagging questions about racial discrimination in an area where Michael Brown, an unarmed teenager, was shot and killed by a white police officer last year.

“In short, Black children are subjected to harsher treatment because of their race,” Assistant Attorney General Vanita Gupta wrote in a letter to Gov. Jay Nixon, St. Louis County Executive Steve Stenger and Family Court Administrative Judge Thea Sherry. She called the findings “serious and compelling.”

Meanwhile, in the Sociology of Education study, Ramey found that schools with larger populations of Black students also had higher rates of suspensions, while schools with more white students had a greater number of kids in programs designed for students with special needs.

Ramey said to qualify for special services students must be given an official diagnosis from a medical or mental health professional detailing why they need extra help. Schools are given with funds to provide these extra, costly services from the government.

“Some scholars have suggested that both the suspension and medicalization may be responses to standardized testing,” Ramey said. “If you suspend kids while they’re supposed to take the test, they no longer count against the school’s score.”

“Same thing with kids with borderline learning disabilities and putting them on medication,” he added. “If a kid is borderline and you give them stimulant medication, that’s going to improve his or her test score and improve the school’s scores.”

Ramey’s study raises serious questions about how America’s public school system addresses concerns about how black students can effectively learn and succeed in such a biased educational environment. Sadly, these findings will come as no surprise to many Black parents who say their children are often marginalized in public – and even private – schools.

Ramey should be commended for exposing racially discriminatory practices in school districts across the country, but now it’s time to find a solution to this problem instead of just talking about it.

What do you think?

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