Although black students make up 16 percent of total school enrollment in New Jersey, they were 43.7 percent of those who received one or more out-of-school suspensions during the 2013-2014 school year, according to a new report.
The report, “Bring Our Children Home: A Prison-to-School Pipeline for New Jersey’s Youth,” released on Wednesday by the New Jersey Institute for Social Justice, shows that black students are disproportionately represented in numerous types of disciplinary actions reported to the U.S. Department of Education’s Office of Civil Rights. For instance, the report found that African-American students made up 35.3 percent of students getting an in-school suspension, 37 percent of those expelled, 34.5 percent of school-related arrests, and 31.4 percent of referrals to law enforcement.
“These racial disparities do not reflect greater culpability of black children than their white peers, as black and white youth commit most offenses at similar rates,” said Andrea McChristian, the primary author of the report and the institute’s associate counsel. “Rather, these disparities exist, in part, because of our schools’ inability to see black children as children. Our new youth justice system must view all children as children, and provide them with the grace, compassion, and support they need.”
In issuing the report, the institute again called for the immediate closure of the state’s only youth prison for girls, the Female Secure Care and Intake Facility, or Hayes, which is now on the site of the former Bordentown School, which was an elite public boarding school for blacks for more than 50 years before being closed by the state in the 1950s.
Shortly before leaving office, former Gov. Chris Christie announced plans to close Hayes and the New Jersey Training School for Boys, also known as Jamesburg, and replace them with two smaller youth rehabilitation centers. NJISJ is seeking to speed up this closure.
The institute’s report also seeks to have the state build a modern, racially diverse Bordentown School whose curriculum would center around racial and social justice, study the “school-to-prison” pipeline in New Jersey with an emphasis on school districts with high rates of disciplinary actions, and provide more detailed data about suspensions and expulsions by race and gender. A New Jersey Department of Education spokesman said the DOE plans to include that data on next year’s school report cards.