Racial profiling by police has made headlines for years. Now a California state legislator says the problem of disciplining people based on the color of their skin has spread to public schools.
State Sen. Richard Alarcon, a Democrat representing the Los Angeles-area town of San Fernando, is sponsoring a bill mandating the collection of racial data on all suspensions and expulsions in California's public schools.
"African Americans and Latinos are suspended and expelled at much higher rates than the general population," Alarcon said.
U.S. Department of Education figures show that one in eight black students nationwide was suspended in 1997, compared to only one in 18 white kids.
"It doesn't feel good — it feels like all the odds are against you, and how are you going to succeed?" Alarcon said. "We want to put an end to that feeling."
There's no evidence the government figures are the result of profiling, however — and educators insist that kicking kids out of school isn't about race, it's about conduct.
"We treat everybody equally," said Carlos Martinez, assistant principal of North Hollywood High School in the San Fernando Valley. "We look at the infraction and we deal with the infraction. We don't look at the color of the skin of the youngster."
One organization, the American Civil Rights Coalition, has openly criticized Alarcon's proposal.
"Bills like this are political correctness and institutional racism gone amuck," said ACRC Chairman Ward Connerly. Connerly spearheaded California's anti-affirmative action campaign and says this latest bill could have serious consequences.
"If I were a teacher and I'm going to have to be under the spotlight as to whether I'm engaged in racism by disciplining some black kid, I'm probably going to think twice before I discipline the kid," he said. "And the kid may really need disciplining."
Collecting racial data of the kind Alarcon is calling for is sure to face resistance. With California's education budget already stretched to the limit, politicians will have to prove the issue really is black-and-white if the bill has any chance of passing.
"It's going to take more resources, and right now we need our resources for our kids," Martinez said.