The Wake County school system is due credit for seeking and at last getting some data about the number of students arrested on campus, how many of them are referred to the court system and what the racial breakdown in terms of percentages is in such arrests – and in suspensions.
The numbers show, in short, that black students are much more likely to be arrested and suspended. In the 2014-15 school year, black students accounted for 69 percent of court referrals and were 1.7 times more likely to be arrested for fighting and theft.
School officials are right to seek ways to curb suspensions, which hurt students’ chances to gain academic footing, and to examine closely the possible reasons for and solutions to the racial disparities in encounters with law enforcement and the courts. Board member Keith Sutton made an important point when he said the involvement of law enforcement should be a “last resort” for schools. “Once you get law enforcement involved,” he said, “it’s very hard to get them out.”
The system must protect students, and when there is violence that endangers others, police must be called. But school resource officers also ought to consider mediation, counseling and Teen Court alternatives before law enforcement enters the picture if possible.
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At least now, the schools have some statistics to work into their examination of racial disparities and how to reduce them.