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Suspensions and Expulsions: A Look at the Racial Injustice of School Punishment

posted Dec 3, 2018, 5:28 PM by Ontario South   [ updated Dec 5, 2018, 11:47 AM by Noor El-Husseini ]

Written by Olivia Faulconbridge

Continuing our examination of unfair suspensions and expulsions, this blog will look at the rate of school punishment in Black youth. During
York University’s Faculty of Education Summer Institute in August, we learned a lot about the injustices experienced by Black youth in Ontario schools from a number of people, including teachers, principals, graduate students, and community organizations. As the RSEKN Southern regional team, we chose to focus our work on suspension and expulsion, so these presenters peaked my interest. In April 2017, CBC news shared a report on the disproportionate number of expulsions among Black males, between 2011 and 2016, where almost half of the Toronto District School Board's expulsions were handed out to Black students. As is the case throughout Ontario schools and school boards, the TDSB collected race-based data in the effort to lower educational disparities. The reality is these stories have been told and retold for decades across cities, provinces and countries and, yet, very little change is made to systemically address or change the processes that reinforce these outcomes and impacts on Black students’ lived experiences, as well as their educational journeys.  

In March 2013, The Toronto Star published an article stating that during the 2006-7 school year, Black students made up about 12% of the high school students in Toronto’s Public board and yet they represented over 31% of the suspensions in that same year. Comparatively white students made up 33% of the high school students and only 29% of suspensions.

A TDSB report indicates that, between 2006 and 2011, Black students were more than twice as likely to be suspended at least once compared to white students. Black students were 3 times as likely to be placed in the essentials program and 2 times as likely to be placed in applied programs compared to white peers; whereas, white peers were 1.5 times as likely to be placed in academic programs. Black students were more likely to be identified as having an exceptionality (non-gifted) and less likely than white peers to be identified as gifted. Furthermore, Black students had a higher drop out rate compared to their white peers.

When asked how Black students feel about their education, they express feeling negatively about their school experience, their safety in the school and feel mistrusting of school authority figures. However, many of these articles seem to point to the characteristics of black culture and families as the reason for the increased suspension and expulsion, asking questions such as: Are they bored? Are they hungry? Is it because they’re poor? Is it because they have to take care of their siblings? While we examine the issues these children and their families encounter to explain the rate of suspension and expulsion, we are missing a larger problem; our own biases and assumptions.

Previously known as one of the most troubled schools in its area, one Ontario high school’s principal has instilled a change to reduce the rates of suspensions and expulsions. Reducing the focus on punishments such as suspensions and expulsions and focusing on building responsibility, participation, social relationships and self-regulation led to an improvement in the overall school climate and the academic outcomes of students who would previously have been at risk.

Who dares to teach must never cease to learn. -  John Cotton Dana