Sherri Ackerman, Tampa Bay Online, November 6, 2011
At 14, Shawn Turner-McGee is a convicted felon, arrested last spring for pushing his teacher and grabbing her arms.
He said it was a misunderstanding, one that he wrote a written apology for and served probation.
Last month, Greco Middle School officials suspended the seventh-grader twice for shoving and provoking another boy in the hall.
On Thursday, during his first week back on campus, Shawn was in trouble again following another scuffle and school lockdown.
“I don’t want him to be labeled a bad kid,” said his mother, Christy Turner. “I want him to get his education.”
But it won’t be easy. Shawn and other black males are among the most at-risk students in the district and the nation.
And while the gap in graduation rates between black males and boys of other races may be narrowing, it’s still an issue that leads to future consequences.
Only 47 percent of America’s black males graduate high school, according to a 2010 report by the Schott Foundation, a Cambridge, Mass.-based organization that funds programs to help public schools.
In Florida, state Department of Education records show that 61 percent of black male students graduated high school in 2008.
That number rose two years later to 68 percent with 75 percent of black males in Hillsborough graduating with classmates who started high school the same year.
Compare that to 88 percent of white males matriculating in the county, and it shows the gap between black and white male students is closing, education leaders say.
Black males are twice as likely in Florida to face suspensions or expulsions than white and Hispanic males, a Tampa Tribune analysis found.
In Hillsborough, black males are three times more likely to be suspended from school than white males and five times more likely to be expelled.
A 2010 study by the civil rights advocate Southern Policy Law Center blames zero-tolerance disciplinary policies for the high rates.
Despite two decades of the practice, the policies don’t necessarily improve safety or learning, the law center said.
In Hillsborough, which has zero tolerance for incidents like violence against teachers or bringing weapons to school, officials recognize the high rate of suspensions is a problem.