Criminal Justice Reform Could Change In School Suspension From Being a Holding Cell for Black Boys

Bare walls, old chalkboard, chairs, tables, concrete floors. This is not a prison cell, it’s just what most in-school suspension (ISS) rooms look like. And in my experience they mostly house Black boys placed out of class.

The ISS room either serves as a holding cell for Black boys in schools or a party room. Either way, it doesn’t help decrease the achievement gap.

It’s true that Black male educators are more likely to be appointed or chosen for a discipline role in school.

As a former school administrator, the work of discipline is not as easy as people presume it to be.

I’ve had a room full of 12 -17 Black boys in ISS.

ISS is just a holding cell for Black boys.

Special education accommodations are used as a time out for Black boys in general education classes. Due to their IEPs, certain behaviors that are too disruptive in class can warrant ISS.

In school suspension is a part of the school-to-prison pipeline. It is truly used as a holding cell for Black boys whose behavior is considered “unruly.” It is the step before Blacks boys’ behaviors escalate to the level of suspension or expulsion.

The concern is the effectiveness of these programs if there are large numbers of Black boys not finding successful outcomes.

We can’t improve the discipline of Black boys in cell-like atmospheres. An ISS room is not creating an opportunity to change their behavior.

My advocacy for improving the educational outcomes for Black boys was often times challenged.

Discipline was one of the most difficult things in school leadership for me. It was challenging to get school leadership to truly support restorative justice-based discipline programs.

In-school suspension rooms are full of Black boys because of poor discipline policies. And these discipline policies are a barrier that will continue to increase suspension rates of Black boys in schools.

Data shows that Black boys still have the highest suspension rates. I’ve seen how schools manipulate discipline data. ISS is used as a loophole to under-report.

It’s hard to develop policies that are reflective of social justice reform practices when you don’t have people who know how to implement them at the decision-making table.


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