In Missouri, suspensions more frequent and harsher for young black students

Last school year, Missouri public schools issued more than 219,000 suspensions. About 10 percent went to students in kindergarten through third grade. St. Louis second-grader Johnny, pictured above, was one of them. In fact, Johnny spent 38 days out of school last year. Hear his story in the We Live Here podcast. PHOTOS BY CAROLINA HIDALGO | ST. LOUIS PUBLIC RADIO

There are countless examples across the country where data show that when it comes to school discipline, all children are not being treated equally.
In Missouri, this is especially true for black students who received 40 percent of the suspensions last school year, yet only make up 16 percent of the student population.

Keyanna Fields, helps her 8-year-old son Johnny with his scarf before their walk to the bus stop. Last year, when he was in first grade, Johnny spent about two months out of school because of suspensions. CAROLINA HIDALGO | ST. LOUIS PUBLIC RADIO

And when a kid gets suspended in the early grades, when they’re 5 or 6 or 7 years old, it can put them into what’s called the school-to-prison-pipeline.
Across the country there’s a growing movement to cut off that pipeline before it gets started.

Johnny jokes with his mom, Keyanna, before heading out to school. He's on the honor roll this year. CAROLINA HIDALGO | ST. LOUIS PUBLIC RADIO

Locally, the Ferguson Commission recommended a ban on out-of-school suspensions in kindergarten through third grade.
As it stands, any decision to get rid of early grade out-of-school suspensions in Missouri would have to come from individual school boards.

“I personally don’t believe they should be getting out-of-school suspensions,” Missouri Education Commissioner Margie VanDeven told We Live Here last fall, when asked about giving out of school suspensions to kindergarten through third grade students.

Johnny waves goodbye to his mom, Keyanna, as he boards the bus to school. CAROLINA HIDALGO | ST. LOUIS PUBLIC RADIO

But they are getting suspended, it’s happening to students of color a lot. 

Go here for data on early grade suspensions for every school district and charter operator in the state.

Although black children make up only 17 percent of kindergarten through third grade students in the state, they received almost 70 percent of all out-of-school suspensions last school year, according to state discipline data. 

And this is not a problem exclusive to St. Louis or Missouri. In the podcast, you'll hear how other places, like Boston, are tackling early-grade suspensions.

Keep scrolling down, though, to get a sense of the scope of the issue here in Missouri.

Because as you look closer at those numbers a picture starts to emerge.