It should come as little surprise that the legacy of racism echoes loudly through Missouri’s school hallways.
Missouri’s troubled history with race began when it was contentiously admitted to the Union as a slave state in the 1820 Missouri Compromise.
It continues to this day.
In 2015, Missouri made national headlines when the Center for Civil Rights Remedies at the University of California-Los Angeles ranked the state No. 1 in the country for racial disparities in the suspension of Black elementary school students.
In a new report, the ACLU of Missouri took a look at school discipline across the state. We found that in nearly every category, Black students and students with disabilities are punished more severely and more frequently than their White peers and their peers who do not have disabilities.
We know that just a few days of missed school because of a suspension can have a profound effect on a child’s life. The consequences of excessive discipline extend far beyond the classroom, perpetuating cycles of poverty, low-education attainment, and structural inequalities that span generations.
Some of the facts we found and included in our report, “Missouri’s Pipeline of Injustice: From School to Prison”:
Black students are 4.5 times more likely to be suspended than White students. Missouri's rate is higher than the already too-high national average suspension rate for Black students of 3.8.
Black students with disabilities were more than three times more likely to be suspended than White students with disabilities.
Black boys are almost four times more likely to receive an out-of-school suspension than White boys. Black girls are six times more likely to receive an out-of-school suspension than White girls.
Black students are almost twice as likely to be hit in school as a discipline measure than their White peers. Missouri is one of 19 states in the nation that still allows corporal punishment.
Between 2011 and 2014, the rate of students expelled from school in Missouri doubled.
In Missouri, 37.6 percent of schools have sworn law enforcement officers patrolling the halls and school cafeterias, compared to 29 percent nationally. More officers mean more student referrals to law enforcement.
This report is just the beginning of our effort to stop the pipeline of injustice in Missouri.
And we know that one organization can’t do it alone.
That’s why the report has recommendations for students, parents, educators, policymakers, legislators and law enforcement.
The ACLU of Missouri is also teaming up with school reform advocates, like Dr. Sharonica Hardin-Bartley, Superintendent of University City Schools.
"We must think differently about student discipline. As schools and learning organizations become more trauma informed, our practices should be more restorative in nature. Punitive measures simply don't work,” Hardin-Bartley told us. “Schools, teachers, administrators, parents need the appropriate training, policies, and support to effectively create a learning environment that is safe, nurturing, and most importantly one that humanizes the educational process for adults and students. Schools can't do this work alone."
The ACLU is seeking to engage five school districts in a pilot program to decrease suspension rates. We will do this side-by-side with community groups, educators, and partners already committed to improving the lives of students.
We must ensure that all children have their constitutional right to an equal education, today and always.
Sara Baker is Legislative and Policy Director of the ACLU of Missouri