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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...
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

The first time Martin was suspended, it was for truancy and tardiness. Whether or not the incidences were subjectively assessed, the punishments don’t always fit the crimes.

“Why would you suspend a child who is late? What sense does that make?” said Marguerite Wright, a clinical psychologist and author of the parenting guide, “I’m Chocolate, You’re Vanilla: Raising Healthy Black and Biracial Children in a Race-Conscious World.”

“The biggest thing is that it tells (students) that they are failures,” Wright said. “You’re not going to close the achievement gap … because they are not in school.”

Wright and Dianis both agreed that the seed of failure could be planted in a student’s psyche as early as preschool.

“At the heart of children doing well in school is forming relationships with their teachers,” Wright said. “If you are growing up in these at-risk environments, you start getting these messages early on.”

Many learning institutions have effective alternatives to out-of-school suspension. Restorative justice programs commute a normal off-site dismissal to in-school intervention. The restorative model gets students to take responsibility for their actions, in the same way that conflict resolution programs do.

At Rosa Parks Elementary School in San Francisco, Principal Paul Jacobsen used grant money to institute a successful restorative justice program, according to a recent story in the San Francisco Chronicle.

Reacting to the Education Department report on school suspensions, state lawmakers in California have proposed a measure to limit out-of-school suspensions. A second proposal would require alternative behavioral and intervention programs, particularly in schools with high rates of suspension or expulsion, the Chronicle reported.

But Dianis said restorative programs are just the half of it. Bluntly, she says racial profiling is as much of a problem in schools as it is in law enforcement — or in Martin’s case, supposed vigilante justice.

“In cases where white kids get suspended, it’s either you had the drugs, or you didn’t,” Dianis said. “Either you had the knife, or you didn’t.”

The color of a student’s skin, Dianis added, makes subordination and wearing baseball caps in school suspension worthy offenses. There is no restorative process. They are sent on “vacations” from school, which are frequently unsupervised.

In Trayvon’s case, his father Tracy Martin and mother Sybrina Fulton wanted him in Sanford, away from his friends back in Miami, a close family friend told CNN. Martin’s suspension was supervised.

Dianis said students who are put out on the street, thanks to swift suspension from school, are at-risk for more of the same trouble that got them the suspension in the first place.

It’s been reported that Trayvon had aspirations in the field of aviation. An email account belonging to the teen, which was apparently hacked by an anarchist group, showed Trayvon was looking for colleges to attend and was preparing to take the SATs.

Although Martin family lawyers have not confirmed the breach, it’s clear there was more to Trayvon, the student, than occasional mischief and a few suspensions.