FORESTVILLE — Citing statistics that black students are three times more likely than whites to be expelled from school, the Rev. Jesse Jackson urged Suitland High School students Thursday to commit to school.
“We have no control over our date of birth or our race or our gender,” Jackson said at the school, whose student body is 97 percent black. “But we have control over the choices we make.”
Recalling the fight by black children to integrate the white schools in then-segregated Little Rock, Ark., Jackson castigated students today who skip school or drop out altogether.
“Today, there are no howling mobs outside the doors. There are no governors blocking the doors. So why are we not attending school?” he asked.
A Chicago Tribune analysis of U.S. Department of Education data concluded last month that black students nationwide are three times more likely to be expelled than white students who commit the same offenses. It said the disparity rose immensely in some states — black students in New Jersey were 60 times as likely to be expelled as whites.
Jackson said he chose Suitland High School because of the progress the school is making in improving student performance. Suitland is one of seven schools that the state removed last year from its list of “schools identified for improvement,” because of increases in their state assessment tests.
At Suitland, for example, the graduation rate rose to 88.3 percent in 2006, according to county statistics, above the 2006 statewide rate of 85.4 percent.
But attendance at Suitland is still an issue. Attendance at the school dropped from 88.6 percent in 2005 to 85.2 percent in 2006, according to a county performance report, compared to statewide averages of 92 percent in 2005 and 91.6 percent in 2006.
“One of the biggest fights is getting the kids here,” said Suitland Principal Mark Fossett.
Fossett said he worries most about freshmen, because the new pressures of high school make them the most likely to quit.
“If we get them through 10th grade, we can get them to graduate,” he said.
Prince George’s County Public Schools spokesman John White concurred.
“Ninth grade is the critical year where students have an adjustment to make to high school,” he said.
Jackson said to reporters after the speech that serious problems face black youth every day, they just do not get the attention of high-profile incidents like the “Jena 6” case.
In that case, six black students at Jena (La.) High School were charged with attempted second-degree murder in connection with the beating of a white teen, following the hanging of a noose from a tree near the high school.
“The noose is a symbol of a bygone era,” Jackson said Thursday. “But drugs and guns are problems that are happening right now.”