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School CP - December 1988

Corpun file 4423


The Oklahoman, Oklahoma City, 12 December 1988

Black Students Spanked, Suspended More, Report Says

By Chris Brawley

Black students, who are spanked and suspended at twice the rate of white students, are sometimes punished unfairly, according to a nationwide report released today.

That's no surprise to Thelma R. Parks, a black Oklahoma City school board member who was elected this year after spending 36 years as an Oklahoma City teacher and counselor.

"I'm aware of that and have been for years," Parks said. "A large number of blacks do get unequal treatment for the same crime."

In its report, the National Coalition of Advocates for Students ranked the states with greatest difference in the treatment of white and black students regarding corporal punishment. Oklahoma was listed as 10th.

Nationwide, black students account for 16 percent of the public school population. They are on the receiving end of 31 percent of the corporal punishment incidents and 30 percent of the school suspensions, the report said.

The odds of being spanked or suspended rise rapidly for young black males. In general, male students account for 80 percent of the corporal punishment incidents and 70 percent of school suspensions, the coalition said.

In Shawnee, 5 percent of the student population is black, but 20 percent of the corporal punishment incidents were inflicted on black students, according to the same 1986 U.S. Department of Education survey.

In Hartshorne, a town of 2,400 in southeastern Oklahoma, 4 percent of the school students are black, but 8 percent of the corporal punishment incidents involved black students.

Hartshorne administrator George Timmons said the district has the same number of black students today, but the corporal punishment rate for black students has lowered to zero.

"The black kids we have now are very good students," Timmons said.

"They just don't get into trouble, and if they do get into trouble, then we just call their mama or daddy and they take care of it."

In the Oklahoma City district, 39 percent of the students are black, but 51 percent of the students who were spanked were black, according to the 1986 survey.

However, through Nov. 29 of this school year, an informal survey shows only two students had corporal punishment used upon them, superintendent Arthur Steller said.

Since board policy was changed in August, district officials have been promoting the use of other forms of discipline, Steller said.

The Oklahoma City school board voted then that students may only be spanked when parents provide written permission.

Steller said it would be hard to know if discipline is administered equitably.

Parks, the school board member, said she had witnessed instances in which it was not.

Several years ago, five white students were ordered to do community service after a police officer caught them breaking into their high school building, Parks said.

The next week, a coat belonging to a white student was found in the locker shared by several teen-agers, including a black student.

The black student, who claimed innocence, was blamed for theft.

"Who knows who put it in there?" Parks said. The black teenager was suspended, she said.

Why is there a discrepancy in the numbers of black and white children receiving corporal punishment and other forms of discipline?

Steller said research has shown that some teachers have different expectation levels from children from different types of home.

For instance, if a white child from an upper middle-class home throws a rock, he is immediately scolded.

The same teacher may expect a black child from a poor home to come to school with behavior problems, Steller said. The black child throws a rock one or two times and he is ignored.

The third time, he throws a rock and he is spanked, Steller said.

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