November 28 — 12:00 am, 2002

What they’re saying

Common myths about school safety

The Applied Research Center’s ERASE Initiative, a national program which challenges racism in public schools, produces a variety of resources on race and school discipline, including the fact sheet excerpted here.

Myth: People of color are suspended more because they are, in fact, the troublemakers and more prone to violence. Higher disciplinary rates for people of color, compared to whites, do not mean people of color are inherently more dangerous or prone to violence. This would be like saying that lower test scores for people of color means that they are inherently less intelligent than whites. Institutional racism plays a significant role in how people get treated, how behavior gets interpreted, and who gets punished. People of color inside schools, just as people of color outside schools, are more likely than whites to be suspected of violence and punished more severely.

Myth: Crime is increasing and our schools are unsafe. According to the Final Report of the Bi-partisan Working Group on Youth Violence to the 106th Congress (February 2000), it is a "common misconception…that schools are becoming an increasingly violent place and do not provide a sanctuary for learning…statistically speaking, schools are among the safest places for children to be."

Myth: More security and harsher punishments result in less crime. There is little evidence that excessive security decreases violence. In fact, a highly militarized school can actually create a more hostile environment where students feel threatened and controlled by authorities. According to the Final Report of the Bi-partisan Working Group on Youth Violence to the 106th Congress (February 2000), "The climate at a schools – whether students feel safe, connected, and supported so that they can learn – is as important, and possible more important, than the physical security of the school."

Myth: Discipline disparities are due to socio-economics, not race. Although low-income students are more likely to receive harsh punishments than high-income students, when socio-economic status is held constant, students of color are still disciplined at disproportionate rates compared to white students (Skiba, 2000).

Contact the Applied Research Center at 510-653-3415, or www.arc.org

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