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Black Students Targeted in CA School Suspensions

Classroom blackboard; Credit: Thinkstock

Dwayne Powe Jr. got suspended in the eighth grade – and not for your typical teen offense. He was no drug peddler or criminal. He didn’t pick pocket any student or cyber bully via iPhone.

He simply asked a classmate if he could borrow a pencil, which prompted his teacher to dismiss him from class. Powe said he tried to explain that he wasn’t being disruptive but it only made matters worse.

Technically, he was guilty of “willful defiance,” a controversial offense that resulted in nearly 200,000 California students being suspended last year.

But what does “willful defiance” even mean? Although vague in its meaning, the term typically allows teachers to dismiss students from class for disruptive behavior and recent data shows that students of color are overwhelmingly targeted, according to The California Department of Education.

“The research speaks very, very clearly that students of color don’t engage in more egregious violations than any other student,” California Department of Education Coordinated Student Support Division Director Gordon Jackson told USA today.

African-American students have accounted for roughly 20% of willful defiance suspensions each year since 2011, despite accounting for about 6% of student enrollment. White students account for 20% of willful defiance suspensions, but they make up 25% of the student population.

“So, there’s something else at play — and it could very well be those differences that I think are often represented in the fact that many of our teachers don’t look like a lot of our students,” Jackson said. “Collecting the data just confirmed that there is a certain level of disproportionality, particularly in those areas that are subjective –- willful defiance, disturbance -– that there’s a high preponderance of African-American and Latino or students of color that are suspended.”

Thank you, Mr. Jackson.

Based on the numbers alone, we tend to agree. Do you? Has your child ever been suspended for “willful defiance?” Do you think his/her teacher was being fair? Tell us in the comments below.