Suspensions on the Rise: Professor’s Response

David Stovall, PhD, associate professor of educational policy studies, reacts to the rise of suspensions as a discipline tool in CPS in this op-ed:

After reading a WBEZ story on school suspensions, I think it becomes critically important to contextualize the current state of public education in Chicago.  With the recent upsurge in the reporting of violence on the South and West sides of the city, the framing of African-American and Latina/o youth as hyper-violent becomes increasingly problematic.  Not only is the public perception inaccurate, it is also indicative of factors that are rarely taken into account when considering the sociopolitical conditions in a hyper-segregated city.  Suspensions are part and parcel of a larger, intertwined story that is often over-simplified and sanitized, resulting in the proscribed narrative of African-American and Latina/o youth as inherently violent.

The report on suspensions is of eminent concern in charter school networks and district-run schools. Additionally, I am also alarmed at the intensity of the efforts to further marginalize African-American and Latina/o youth in education, housing and the criminal justice system.  Whether it’s displacement by way of gentrification, or destabilization and disinvestment by way of school closings, I recognize the importance of connecting education to it is just as important to pay attention to the ways that education intersects with housing and the criminal justice system.  As a city that has lost almost 180,000 African-American residents since 2000, significant portions of the remaining families are provided few viable educational and/or housing options.  If a family is displaced and a neighborhood school is closed, the trauma of this destabilization can contribute to difficulties in school.  If school systems do not have these concerns at the forefront of their policymaking decisions, blame is often placed on the youth who are suspended.  When this happens repeatedly in a particular school, a false belief is created about the inability of young people to achieve academically.  It also has the potential to lead to the downward spiral of disinvestment, where resources are removed from the school because of repeated poor performance of local and state metrics.

I also want to take into account the success of properly staffed restorative justice programs in CPS schools.  Unfortunately, these programs historically have not been given the necessary support to maintain themselves.  Where some equate this to a budget issue, I consider it to be one of political will.  In the end, the city must decide whether or not its public schools are for all children or for those who happen to do well on a test.