Fox News host Bill O'Reilly attacked efforts to decrease school suspensions and expulsions with programs known as “restorative justice,” ignoring that these traditional punishments disproportionately target students of color.
For decades, many school districts followed zero-tolerance policies on student discipline. Such policies encouraged schools to suspend students for many types of violent and non-violent misconduct, including “insubordination,” often at racially disproportionate rates. According to a report by UCLA's Center for Civil Rights Remedies, American students lost almost 18 million days of school instruction due to suspensions just in the 2011-12 school year. In 2014, the Department of Education and Department of Justice reported that the racial disparities “are not explained by more frequent or more serious misbehavior by students of color,” and issued new guidelines aimed at reducing racial disparities in school discipline.
In an effort to combat such racially disparate suspension rates, some school districts have promoted alternative school discipline models known as “restorative justice” programs. These programs typically involve working with students to get them to take responsibility for their behavior through group talking and dialogue rather than outright suspension or expulsion. New York City recently announced that “principals must get approval from the Education Department central office before [a] student can be suspended,” and in recent years has included “more alternatives to traditional punishments, like peer mediation and early interventions.”
During the March 17 edition of his Fox News show, Bill O'Reilly hosted New York Post columnist Paul Sperry for a segment titled, “Chaos in Public Schools.” O'Reilly claimed that “liberal mayors all over the country are making it easier for violent students to remain in public schools.” O'Reilly added that “students can actually assault teachers without being suspended or expelled in some cases.”
But O'Reilly's dismissal of such school discipline reform efforts ignores the racially disparate impact of zero-tolerance policies. As Capital New York explained, “during the 2013-2014 school year, the most recent year for which data is available, 53,000 suspensions were issued, and black or Hispanic students made up 87 percent of those suspensions” in New York City. According to U.S. News & World Report, “Black Americans are suspended and expelled at three times the rate of white students. They make up 16 percent of school enrollment, but account for 32 percent of students who receive in-school suspensions, 42 percent of students who receive multiple out-of-school suspensions and 34 percent of students who are expelled”:
The school discipline reforms that O'Reilly attacked have resulted in fewer suspensions. The Christian Science Monitor in 2013 described the impact of such a program in the Oakland Unified School District:
In the 2011-12 school year, African-Americans made up 32 percent of Oakland's students but 63 percent of the students suspended. In middle schools, principals suspended about 1 out of 3 black boys.
The US Department of Education's Office for Civil Rights investigated whether the discipline was discriminatory. Before making a legal finding, OCR collaborated with the district last fall on a five-year voluntary resolution plan to reduce suspensions, expulsions, and the racial disparity.
Suspensions not only dropped by 51 percent last year, but they continue to fall, and [Ralph J. Bunche Academy] eliminated disproportionality in suspensions for African-Americans.