Last week the Los Angeles Unified School District board voted 5-2 to halt the practice of suspending students for acts of “willful defiance.” Instead of sending kids home, alternative disciplinary methods will be employed—including placing defiant students in “intervention rooms” where tutoring and “reparative justice” conferences are supposed to occur. It’s unclear, however, where personnel for these new psycho-judicial sessions will come from.
Observers should note that “willful defiance” is a catch-all category that includes acts ranging from wearing baggy pants (a euphemism, I suspect, for the blatant display of underwear) to mouthing off in class or refusing to comply with an instructor’s directives. These generic offenses accounted for about half of the district’s 700,000 suspensions issued last year. Serious violations like theft and acts of violence can still result in suspension.
Numerous news accounts link the frequent employment of “willful defiance” suspensions to “zero tolerance” policies that were instituted after the 1999 Columbine massacre. Anyone familiar with education bureaucracies knows that “zero-tolerance” is a popular title for policies applied without recourse to common sense. Accordingly, under such rules plastic knives may be equated with stilettos and Hello Kitty bubble guns with assault weapons.
Given such circumstances, doing away with a vague category that results in automatic suspension doesn’t seem unreasonable. On the other hand, the racial profiling argument proffered by “willful-defiance” opponents is positively perverse.
According to these advocates, the fact that black students account for 26% of all suspensions while constituting only 9% of the district’s school population is prima facie evidence of disciplinary racism.
The elephant-in-the-room that this race-centered logic ignores is that nearly two-thirds of all black children in California now live in homes without a father present—a staggering statistic that politically correct educrats are loath to acknowledge.
Anyone who dismisses the well-documented correlation between father-absence and a host of social pathologies shouldn’t be allowed near children. Yet this is precisely the head-in-the-sand perspective of officials who establish policies for the nation’s largest school district.
This same race-based reasoning was used a few years back to explain why African-American kids in L.A. County wind up in foster care more frequently than other groups—a convenient explanation that’s being abandoned now that most social workers are themselves black or Hispanic.
Schools can’t themselves rectify a community-based disaster, but educators should at least acknowledge the truth and present to students stories and statistics that relate father-absence to crime, health, and educational achievement—a task they are eager to fulfill when it comes to tobacco-related damage.
Unfortunately, the thing most often suspended in today’s public school systems is common sense.