By Perry Saidman
In December, Washington DC’s Office of State Secretary of Education (OSSE) released its annual “State of Discipline Report”. It contained data to show how suspension rates and other forms of exclusionary discipline are on the decline across DC schools.
A Washington Post article reported that “suspensions and expulsions in D.C. schools decrease, but racial disparities persist”. In school year 2015-16, 12,665 suspensions were issued; 7,324 students were suspended; and 99 students were expelled (96 from charter schools). Compare this to school year 2011-12 when there were 18,720 suspensions, 10,000 students suspended, and 229 expulsions.
OSSE data also shows the persistent problem of disproportionate impact: young black men and women are suspended at a rate 5.8 and 9.1 times greater than their non-black counterparts, respectively. Given as reasons for disciplinary action, "disrespect, insubordination, or disruption" was given for 2,460 of last year's suspensions.
Tarek Maassanari, a leader of Restorative DC, reports as follows:
From what we know about the way implicit, and internalized, bias works around racial and cultural differences, this may one of the underlying ways that the school discipline systems fails to treat our students equitably (for a compelling personal exploration of implicit bias, try out Harvard University's Implicit Association Test). We can also see that academic performance is closely correlated to a student's zip code and family income, both subject to enormous and ongoing racial divides from this country's past to the present.
As an approach that can generate compassion and awareness around racial and cultural biases, Restorative Justice practices can clearly reduce racial disparities in discipline. However, I believe these are unlikely to disappear without addressing the structural linkages to the racialized imbalance of economic and political power.
It is in these shaky, yet fertile times, where I also hope for Restorative Justice - in the form of constructive, enlightening conversations of the heart - to move the country towards a society that works for everyone.