School discipline shows racial inequality

0204_markdorosin

Mark Dorosin

Chapel Hill-Carrboro City Schools might be among the strongest in the state when it comes to racial equity, but community members stressed that there is still a lot of room for improvement at a forum Saturday.

The school discipline forum was organized by Chapel Hill-Carrboro Citizens Advocating for Racial Equity and co-sponsored by the Chapel Hill Town Council’s Justice in Action Committee.

A panel made up of local attorneys, law professors and school board officials discussed racial disparities and how discipline is administered in schools and the court system.

Only about 11 percent of CHCCS students are African-American. But in 2011, more than 60 percent of students suspended from school were African-American, said Mark Dorosin, a managing attorney for the UNC Center for Civil Rights, and a member of the Orange County Board of Commissioners.

And African-American students in North Carolina are far more likely to be suspended for relatively minor or subjective infractions — such as cellphone use, public displays of affection or disrespect, according to a report by the Civil Rights Project at the University of California, Los Angeles.

“These inequalities prevent all of us from reaching our collective potential as a community,” Dorosin said.

CHCCS’s numbers are better than the state average, said Jason Langberg, an attorney for Advocates for Children’s Services, and a panelist at the forum.

“But of course, North Carolina is one of the worst in the country,” he said. “Being better than bad is not good enough.”

During the forum, panelists cited a 2011 U.S. Supreme Court decision as evidence that even in a community focused on equity, abuses still occur.

In that decision, justices determined a student at Chapel Hill’s Smith Middle School should have been read his Miranda Rights after a police officer came to the school to question him about a crime.

Panelists also spoke about the role of armed School Resource Officers. All middle and high schools in CHCCS have had armed officers since the 1990s.

Barbara Fedders, an assistant professor at the UNC School of Law, said the district’s current policy might give those officers too much free rein. For example, Fedders said officers can easily file charges against students.

“That might be a little too much discretion,” Fedders said.

She said even if a case is dismissed, a student’s job prospects, college applications and attempts to join the armed forces might be affected — especially because North Carolina is one of only two states that treats minors 16 years and older as adults.

“That’s pretty staggering and silly,” she said.

Contact the desk editor at city@dailytarheel.com.

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