Black children unfairly suspended, leading to job loss for parents, author says

A new book details how parents who are trying to deal with their children's school suspensions are losing wages

Charles Bell’s forthcoming book Suspended: Punishment, Violence, and the Failure of School Safety chronicles his research and details how school punishment has an impact on the lives of Black families, according to Yahoo News.

Bell spoke with 55 students from city and suburban school districts in Michigan who received school suspensions for minor offenses. He also interviewed their parents about how the suspensions affected their work schedules and wages. To protect the families identities, Bell used fake names throughout the book.

In his research, he says he discovered that school suspensions has an adverse effect. While he says they are meant to decrease violence, they in turn “are associated with declines in academic achievement, an increase in Black students leaving school districts with a record of being punitive, dropping out of school and being arrested.”

Furthermore, Bell notes that school suspensions are directly correlated to loss of wages or loss of jobs for the parents of said children. One example he lists is a mother he refers to as Vanessa.

Vanessa’s son Franklin is a 10th grader who works under an individualized education plan – also known in the educational system as an IEP – due to Franklin’s attention deficit hyperactivity disorder, or ADHD, diagnosis. She says that school officials continued disciplining Franklin for his ADHD behavior as opposed to working with him. Bell says one of Franklin’s suspensions resulted in her losing her job.

“I was working at [place of employment] as a social worker before this job, and at that time I was making $37 an hour,” said Vanessa, according to Bell. “My husband and I were going through a little difficulty, as we were separated at that time. They were calling me from the school because Franklin was having a rough time. He was gonna get suspended. I said, ‘Well, I have to leave.’ When you’re a social worker at that job, you can’t keep calling in” to say you have to leave work.”

Bell has also spent time trying to figure out what’s taking place behind the scenes and trying to combat suspensions. According to him, legislative reforms that policymakers have passed to reduce school suspension rates do not appear to be working in some districts. Massachusetts, Illinois, and Michigan are three states Bell says have passed such reforms. School officials are supposed to use alternative punishments, but parents tell Bell they are doing the opposite.

He’s also found that schools that have larger minority populations are less likely to actually implement gentler punishments. Bell believes that in order for things to get better, stronger legislation needs to be put in place. 

Bell’s book will be available Oct. 2021 via Johns Hopkins University Press.

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