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Wednesday, June 17, 2009 - 10:27am

Black Kids Kicked Out of School More Than Most

Some African American parents say their kids are suspended for behavior school officials might otherwise ignore in white children.

"Well, I won't just say African American. I'll say minority. And, I'm going by an observation I saw while visiting the class."

D.L. Whaley lives in Gwinnett county, with her 14 year old son who was suspended earlier this year for verbal outbursts.

"I saw a white student who was handled completely different. And did things that my son did for which he was suspended and this child was just asked to sit down several times. Literally got up out of his seat, walked around was talking back in a confrontation with the teacher and nothing happened. When my son does those things he gets suspended."

Whaley's son was eventually diagnosed with ADHD. But, she says officials were slow to evaluate him. And the findings came too late to keep him in school.

"I had met with them several times and asked that he be tested, given counseling what could we do to help. Finally, when I insisted and wrote letters to several members of the board, they finally tested him. And before the results of the testing had come back, they expelled him."

And, then there's this mother from Rome who says her son was taunted for hanging out with Mexican students.

"He was called a racial slur by this other student. So, he turned around and he told the child to shut the F up. The teacher heard Christopher but he didn't hear the other child. So, he sent Christopher out."

Jennifer Falk is the education spokesperson for the Georgia NAACP. She says she's not surprised by either story.

"I don't know what to say. It's a terrible situation and that's why we're trying to encourage people to talk about this situation. This is not an uncommon occurrence."

Falk says African American parents are often stonewalled when they ask for suspension alternatives.

"Parents that we've worked with spend an enormous amount of time asking, begging, cajoling school officials for meaningful interventions. Sometimes it isn't provided or it's provided in a check mark fashion … but it's not meaningful and it's not making a difference."

For D.L. Whaley from Gwinnett County, the challenge now is to get her son into another school. She's wants to enroll him in the Georgia Virtual Academy.

But, has decided to hold him back if that doesn't work out.

"He's going to miss the next school year, but I'm trying to do the GVA or something else to keep his skills sharp. I don't want him sitting around like a pumpkin for a year. And because he's not going to be challenged to the level to which I think he could be, I'm going to have him repeat the eighth grade. I don't want him to be pushed through ninth grade."

The data provided to the Georgia NAACP comes from the Department of Education. It shows a clear disparity in expulsion and suspension rates which cross gender, race and ethnicity lines. There's also a correlation between suspended students and those who receive a free or reduced priced lunch.

Falk says the group is not asking that more white kids be suspended to close the disparity gap. Instead, she says the data should be used to start a dialogue.

"Communities, grassroots conversations have to occur at the local level. And ongoing monitoring in an open environment with the public, those are really the next steps," says Falk.

The Department of Education would not speak on the issue of racial disparities in school suspensions. And, a spokesperson told GPB News that discipline is a local issue which must be handled on the local level.

School officials however do point to a program getting good results in schools where it's being tested.

It's called the Positive Behavior Support program and looks at the underlying issues which lead to suspension.

Finally, the DOE says it will levy sanctions against schools where special ed students are suspended more often than others.

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