This is an archived article that was published on sltrib.com in 2017, and information in the article may be outdated. It is provided only for personal research purposes and may not be reprinted.
What were the characters' crimes in the iconic 1980s movie "The Breakfast Club" about teenage angst? Boredom, taping someone's buttocks together, setting off the fire alarm, bringing a flare gun to school that went off in a locker and ditching class to go shopping. They all received Saturday detention.
Kids these days aren't so lucky. They attend schools patrolled by police and security guards who have the authority to arrest them for even minor infractions. So schools with police on campus will naturally see childish antics punished as adult crimes.
Fortunately, school administrators seem to have realized that students are not the enemy. A new report released Monday indicates that between 2012 and 2014 there were 30 percent fewer suspensions, expulsions, law enforcement referrals and in-school arrests than in the 2010-2011 school year.
Unfortunately, while the discipline numbers are down, the enforcement disparity between races and ethnicities has increased. For instance, Hispanic students were expelled twice as often as white students.
The organization tracking these statistics, Voices for Utah Children, together with the S.J. Quinney College of Law Public Policy Clinic, has been studying Utah's school-to-prison pipeline and the over-use of school discipline. Earlier reports focused on the pipeline in general and the disparities associated with American Indian students.
Important statistics from the most recent study include:
• Students who received school suspensions: 9 percent of black students, 8.5 percent of American Indian students, 5 percent of Pacific Islander and Hispanic students and 2 percent of white students.
• Students arrested in school: American Indians were 8.8 times more likely to be arrested than white peers; Pacific Islanders were 3.3 times more likely.
• Students receiving some sort of discipline: 10.3 percent of all American Indian students, 5.6 percent of students of color, and only 2.6 percent of white students.
Our criminal justice system is racist. And if we're modeling our school discipline process on the criminal justice system, our school discipline process will be racist. Some will argue these populations legitimately commit more crime. If we're willing to settle for that, then we are all racist.
There are reasons students need discipline, and it is not because they are bad. Are there language barriers? Abuse issues? Poverty issues? Learning disabilities? School communities should look at student discipline as an opportunity to reach students, to communicate they are welcome, to help solve individual problems, and to ensure them they are loved.
That could be the most important lesson they learn in school.