Penalizing Black Hair in Our School System Is Wrong

Black students are three to six times more likely to be dismissed from school than their white counterparts. School systems continually criminalize natural Black hairstyles by “preparing them for the real world,” Brookings notes. As it relates to Black hair, the rate of suspensions are deplorable and unreasonably applied.

The Facts Behind Discretionary School Disciplinary Actions

School discipline disproportionately affects students of color. Brookings has provided facts in response to this issue:

  • Black students are disciplined at a rate four times higher than any other racial or ethnic group. Further, our research has found that 70 percent of all suspension disciplines are discretionary. Specifically, Black students are more likely to be suspended for discretionary reasons such as dress code or long hair violations, neither of which have been found to be predictive of student misconduct.
  • Discretionary suspensions are not ‘required’ by law, yet they pose dire consequences to students of color. They place students on a trajectory towards poor academic performance, leading to higher rates of dropping out of school, joining gangs, and getting arrested before the age of 21.
  • The disproportionate rate of discretionary suspensions for Black K-12 students and the continued support of school administrators for these policies against cultural expressions and symbolism provides a glimpse of the continued racialization of school discipline. In the name of creating ‘safer’ student learning environments, public schools have put into place strict, zero-tolerance policies designed to address misconduct. 
  • Rather than adjust their racist policies based on empirical support, education leadership would prefer to justify their actions with a belief in unsubstantiated ideals based on social norms. Initially, these school-based zero-tolerance policies focused on serious violations, such as the possession of weapons or sexual assault on school grounds. However, schools have broadened the scope to include dress code and hairstyle violations.

After extensive research, Brookings has found that improvements in positive behavior and successful response directives after training teachers, staff and administrators in Positive Behavioral Interventions and Supports are beneficial to Black students. Click here to read the six evidence-supported recommendations to support Black youth in school.

The opinions expressed are solely those of the author and do not necessarily reflect the views of A Second Chance, Inc.

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