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What if Krop High had not suspended Trayvon Martin?

Aaron Morrison | 4/11/2012, 8:30 a.m.
Hundreds of Boston area residents rallied and marched on Saturday, April 7, from Ruggles Station to Dudley Square, to denounce the unjust death of Trayvon Martin. Eric Esteves

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Hundreds of Boston area residents rallied and marched on Saturday, April 7, from Ruggles Station to Dudley Square, to denounce the unjust death of Trayvon Martin.

On the evening Trayvon Martin was killed in a Sanford, Fla., gated community, it was a school night. However, the 17-year-old Miami student would not have returned to classes with his friends the following morning.

Martin was serving a 10-day out-of-school suspension in the central Florida town, after officials reportedly removed him for marijuana possession, under a “zero tolerance” policy.

If he had been back in Miami — not shut out from a whole week’s worth of learning opportunities — Martin may not have come face-to-face with George Zimmerman, the volunteer neighborhood watch captain, who pursued him because he looked “up to something” and shot him during an apparent scuffle.

Martin, an African American, shared the experience of many young black students in American public schools, who are given suspensions and expulsions at a disproportionate rate to other groups. That fact isn’t news. But for decades, the disparity has grown exponentially, as some teachers and other education professionals still believe that casting away minority students keeps others safe, and teaches the offending student a lesson.

“We should not believe that just because they are in a classroom that (some teachers) are any different than George Zimmerman,” said Judy Browne Dianis, co-director for the D.C.-based civil rights group, Advancement Project.

Dianis, who spent 20 years as a civil rights attorney, says there is a patent overreaction by teaching professionals to the misbehavior of black males in public schools. Federal data measuring school equities supports what she called a “rush to judgment” when doling out discipline.

Data collected by the U.S. Department of Education’s Office of Civil Rights shows minority students face harsher discipline. African American boys “are far more likely to be suspended or expelled from school than their peers,” read a DOE statement released earlier this month.

The newest data available, from a 2009 survey of public schools, show black students make up 18 percent of the sample. But 35 percent of them are suspended at least once, and 39 percent are expelled. Latino students come in at a close second.

In Miami-Dade County Public Schools, where Martin was enrolled, half of all students who received multiple out-of-school suspensions in 2009 were black. At Dr. Michael M. Krop High School, where Martin reportedly attended, nearly half of the 105 suspensions in 2009 were given to black students, who made up only 35 percent of the school’s enrollment.

A spokesman for Miami-Dade schools said out-of-school suspensions dropped from 24,061 to 22,386, over the last two school years. There are 435 schools in the district.

The suspensions “can be expected to drop more for the current year,” said spokesman John Schuster. The district also offers in-school suspensions, which were down last year.

Dianis, who worked with the district on these issues, said individual schools in Miami-Dade have made improvements, but that it’s not true across the board.

“These suspensions are for things that are very subjective,” Dianis said.

In Martin’s case, he had been suspended three times from his high school. In October, he was suspended with friends for writing “W.T.F.” on a locker, according to a Miami Herald report.