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In-depth: Why Black students are more likely to get suspended than white students

Posted at 8:00 PM, Mar 08, 2021

TAMPA, Fla. — When it comes to the classroom, African American children are often treated differently than white students and education experts say much of the disparate treatment is due to how teachers perceive Black children.

ABC Action News in-depth reporter Anthony Hill took a look at how implicit bias in classrooms can negatively impact students and what’s being done to eliminate that bias in Bay area classrooms.

Studies have shown that African American students are more likely than white students to be suspended from school and receive harsher punishment for the same offense.

Education experts say, there are many reasons for the rates of suspension, but one of those reasons is implicit bias.

“We have to be conscious about what our implicit biases are,” says Kahlila Lawrence, professor of school psychology at the University of South Florida.

She says our subconscious thoughts about different groups of people can and do show up in the classroom.

The American Psychological Association conducted a study where they found Black boys are presumed to be years older than their actual ages. They also found that Black boys as young as 10 years old are viewed as not being as innocent as white boys.

According to the Department of Education, Black kids account for about 21% of students in Florida but they make up 38% of suspensions.

“In my classes, in particular, I talk about implicit bias and how do you recognize it and how do you call it out,” said Dr. Brenda Walker, Associate Dean of the College of Education at the St. Petersburg campus of USF.

Dr. Walker is educating the next generation of teachers on how to identify implicit biases and how to overcome them.

“Each of us is a work in progress and we have to call it out for each other,” said Dr. Walker.

Dr. Walker says implicit bias in the classroom can be eliminated by acknowledging that it exists, that we all have implicit bias, and by colleagues challenging each other when they see it instead of looking the other way.