Blackness, Disability, and Policing in American Schools

This piece originally appeared on June 24, 2020 by Simone Hall in Real Clear Education.

Here we are again. More than three weeks after the murder of George Floyd and three months after the murder of Breonna Taylor, we are again left to reflect on the brutal legacy of police violence in this country. Some are affected by what they’ve seen. Others are indifferent. As a Black woman, it revives feelings of anger and grief I’ve felt repeatedly—after the lives of Korryn Gaines, Atatiana Jefferson, Freddie Gray, Michael Brown, Sandra Bland, Tony McDade, and so many others were taken by those who swore to protect and serve.

George and Breonna offered the ghastly reminder that the world could have been mourning my father, my mother, my godbrothers, my sisters. The world could have been mourning me.

Me. As an advocate for educational equity for all students, I have also been thinking about the impacts of police brutality in schools. There are about 46,000 police officers (often referred to as school resource officers or SROs) in the country’s 130,000+ public schools. Using SROs to address student behavior has led to disparities in the treatment of Black students and students with disabilities h that mirror those of society at large.  According to the latest data from the U.S. Department of Education, students with disabilities represented 12% of overall students in 2015-2016 but made up 26% of students receiving out-of-school suspensions and 24% of those expelled. 15% of students nationwide are Black, but Black boys made up 25% of suspensions and 23% of expulsions and Black girls made up 14% and 10%, respectively. Intersecting these identities only leads to worse results: 19% of the population of students with disabilities are Black, but they represent over a third of those suspended. Finally, of students arrested or referred to law enforcement at school, 30% were Black and 28% had disabilities.