Alexa Gonzalez, a 12 year old student in New York City, never imagined that an average day at school would turn into her being handcuffed. The schoolgirl was caught scribbling on her desk “I love my friends Abby and Faith” by her Spanish teacher and was immediately taken to the principal office where the police was called. She was then handcuffed, tried in family court, found guilty, had to do community service, write an essay about lessons learned from the incident and ultimately suspended from school.
Similar events are occurring all over the country as confirmed by the U.S. Department of Education that released statistics showing that minorities, particularly African Americans and Hispanics, are being suspended and/or arrested for the same minor offenses over their White counterparts.
Over the course of the 2009-2010 school year, the U.S. Department of Education conducted a survey which featured 7,000 school districts representing 72,000 students ranging from kindergarten to high school. African American students made up at least 18 percent of the test group but constituted 35 percent of students facing first time suspensions and 46 percent of second time suspensions. Even more alarming is that of those arrested in school or handed over to law enforcement, 70 percent are either African American or Hispanic.
Education Secretary Arne Duncan realizing the findings showed a discipline problem in our school systems stated that “the undeniable truth is that the everyday experience for too many students of color violates the principle of equity at the heart of the American Promise."
Without addressing the no tolerance policies that plague our schools, it is evident that more events similar to the one Alexa Gonzalez faced will reoccur in some form across the country. For the 12 year old schoolgirl, who stated that putting handcuffs on her was unnecessary because of two little doodles that were erasable is just one example of the bias that is occurring.
Alexa and her family have since sued the school for her arrest and their attorney has stated by doing so “We hope to send a message that we want to stop this from happening to other young children in the future."
Secretary Arne Duncan agreed with that sentiment calling the issue of discipline in our schools, “the civil rights issue of this generation”. He along with activist Russlyn H. Ali visited Howard University to announce several initiatives that will tackle this very issue.
Evan J. Hill is currently matriculating at George Mason University where he will be graduating in May 2012 with a Bachelors of Arts in Communications and a minor in American Government. Upon graduation, he will continue his internship at Advancement Project in the Communications Department. He has a passion for public relations, politics and civil rights issues as evident through his commitment to Public Relations Student Society of America, where he served as chapter president and President Obama’s re-election campaign in which he volunteers for at the local level. In the near future, he hopes to continue exploring the intersection of race and politics by becoming a political strategist.
Updated: April 05 2012