News that a Black child was suspended for staring at a White classmate highlights an age-old debate about race, as well as the underlying discrimination in schools when it comes to non-White students.
Just recently, a 12-year-old Black boy‘s suspension from Ohio’s St. Gabriel Consolidated School for staring at his classmate was upheld by The Archdiocese of Cincinnati due to the school’s policies. These policies are different around the country, but all seek to uphold one thing: the safety of their students.
Since the formation of the zero tolerance policy nearly 20 years ago, major (gun possession) and minor (tardiness) issues have arguably been pushed under the same umbrella, raising concerns for parents. Several studies have also concluded that students of color receive harsher punishment than their White classmates.
NPR reports a government study found Black students make up 18 percent of preschoolers, but are nearly half of all out-of-school suspensions.
Daniel Losen, the director of the Center for Civil Rights Remedies, told The Atlantic in March that a “discipline gap” between the races has caused more harm than good.
Students (many under 15) have been suspended for everything from making finger guns to well, staring at classmates. It’s the brutal indirect effect of harsh safety measures, with Blacks caught in the middle of racial disproportionalities and inconsistent use of the policy.
Here are just a few cases over the years of Black students suspended for questionable reasons.
Kiera Wilmot – Science Experiment Blast (2013)
The Florida teen was just 16 years old when she was taken away from Polk County High in handcuffs after her volcano science experiment exploded in the hallway. The honor student with no criminal past was excited to show her teacher an early version of her experiment, which mixed toilet bowl cleaner and aluminum foil. However, the teen was suspended for ten days, charged with two felonies, and nearly faced expulsion. After huge social media backlash and international attention, she was allowed to return to the school and graduate on time with her twin sister Kayla.
Wilmot was accepted to Florida Polytechnic University, where she plans to study mechanical and robotic engineering. Speaking to USA Today in 2014, the teen said she was called a “terrorist,” since the incident happened shortly after the Boston Marathon Bombing. Since then, Wilmot has stood in solidarity with another student who was falsely profiled for a crafty project–Ahmed Mohamed.
Sam McNair – Hugging A Teacher (2013)
The Georgia native was given a year-long suspension for alleged sexual harassment when he hugged a teacher at Duluth High School. McNair, a senior at the time, had five months left until graduation. A discipline report claimed the high schooler’s lips and cheek touched the teacher’s neck before she pushed him away.
In December 2013, Sloan Roach, a spokesperson for the Gwinnett County Public Schools, told CNN the student’s past run-ins with school officials played a part in his suspension. For his last semester, the school redacted the suspension by allowing him to take online classes.
Rastafarian Student Suspended For Not Cutting Dreadlocks (2014)
A student from South Plaquemines High School in New Orleans was suspended for his dreadlocks falling past his collar-bone. On the first day of school, officials told the unidentified student he had to cut his hair due to school policy. When he informed them that he was a Rastafari and couldn’t cut them for religious reasons, he was sent home.
Nola reports The American Civil Liberties Union of Louisiana sent a letter on the student’s behalf to the school board members and the superintendent, citing that the student’s First and Fourteenth Amendment rights were violated. They also stated that South Plaquemines High’s policies violated Louisiana’s Preservation of Religious Freedom Act.
The student was allowed to return to school after missing ten days.
Dontadrian Bruce – Allegedly Throwing Up Gang Signs (2014)
Olive Branch High School came under fire when they suspended 14-year-old Dontadrian Bruce after he was seen in a photo making a hand gesture. Mic reports the gesture in question was the Mississippi native holding up three fingers to represent his football jersey number, but officials viewed it differently.
“You’re suspended,” assistant principal Todd Nichols said, “because you’re holding up gang signs in this picture.” A disciplinary committee confirmed the school’s decision three days later, based on the school’s zero tolerance policy. Bruce told reporters he was unaware his gesture was affiliated with the Vice Lords, a Chicago street gang.
Critics believed the intent of a zero tolerance atmosphere means well but in this case, lies on the border line of racial profiling. Bruce’s parents told reporters the situation would have been different if their son was White.
Social media campaigns with supporters of all races holding up the gesture spread and soon after, the teen was allowed back to school.
Student Suspended After Apprehending Teen With Gun On School Bus (2013)
A Florida student who took down a teen for pulling out a gun wasn’t celebrated for his actions by school officials. Instead, he was suspended for three days after failing to identify the gun-wielding culprit for the police. Huffington Post reports Cypress Lake High School officials claim the student violated school policies by getting into an altercation on the school bus. They also added the teen was “subject to discipline, per the code of student conduct and Florida law.”
His mother believes her son did not give up the name because he was raised not to be a “snitch.” The student with the gun was later identified, arrested and charged with possession of a firearm on school property and aggravated assault with a deadly weapon.
Asante Cotman – Wearing Heels (2012)
Virginia student Asante Cotman didn’t believe he was doing anything thing wrong when he wore a fashionable scarf, white shirt, cargo pants, and beige heels to school.
His principal, however, was not a fan of the look. The 17-year-old was suspended for three days over his heels. As the only openly gay teen at Charles City High, Cotman says his sexual orientation was the root of the principal’s problem.
NBC 12 reported the exchange between the principal got personal when she said, “Oh, you shouldn’t come back here. Oh, we would be glad if you didn’t come back here. Everybody would be happy.” Cotman said he felt guilty and changed into slippers when she threatened to call the police. The school claimed their policy informed students not to wear shoes that would bring about self -harm, but Cotman said he’s seen girls wear high heels at the school with no problem.
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