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Aug 17, 201208:49 AMEducation Matters

African-American Students Face Higher Suspension Rates in MCPS High Schools

Aug 17, 2012 - 08:49 AM
African-American Students Face Higher Suspension Rates in MCPS High Schools

It’s long been known that African-American students are more likely to be suspended from school than white students. But now a new report covering about 85 percent of the nation’s school kids puts the actual numbers in stark relief:

Seventeen percent of African-American students nationwide received out-of-school suspensions, compared to about 5 percent of white students and 7 percent of Latino students, in kindergarten through 12th grade during the 2009-2010 school year, according to an analysis of federal data from 7,000 schools districts by The Center for Civil Rights Remedies at UCLA’s The Civil Rights Project.

The report, released last week, also found that “suspension rates were equally striking for students with disabilities and revealed that an estimated 13 percent of all students with disabilities were suspended nationally, approximately twice the rate of their non‚Äźdisabled peers.”

So how does Montgomery County Public Schools compare? According to the report, just under 4 percent more African-American students than white students received out-of-school suspensions in 2009-2010.

But an examination of school safety and security statistics for the 2010-2011 school year on the MCPS website confirms that African-American students are still suspended at much higher rates than white students at many high schools.

Here are a few examples:

At Bethesda-Chevy Chase High School, about 16 percent of students were African-American that year, but they accounted for about 37 percent of total suspensions; while white students, at about 60 percent of total enrollment, accounted for less than 30 percent.

At Bethesda’s Walter Johnson High School, African-American students made up a bit more than 7 percent of the school population, but the percentage of African-American students receiving out-of-school suspensions was about 16 percent of the total number of students suspended that year.

At Montgomery Blair High School in Silver Spring, where African-Americans and Hispanic slightly outnumber whites, nearly 52 percent of total suspensions were African-American students and about 39 percent were Hispanic, compared to just 4 percent of whites during that same school year.

It’s an issue that concerns MCPS high school principals, who have been working on ways to help kids who may be at risk of getting into trouble, and continuing efforts to reduce the achievement gap between white and Asian students and African-American and Hispanic students.

“There’s always been a strong interest in reducing and improving the achievement gap,” said Alan Goodwin, principal of Bethesda’s Walt Whitman High School and head of the MCPS high school principals’ group. “Obviously, the two can go hand in hand.”

(He cautioned about making judgments about statistics for schools with small minority populations such as Whitman and Walter Johnson, because the numbers may not reflect the reality of the situation—one student who’s suspended numerous times could skew the numbers.) 

“Nobody wants to suspend and we are all sensitive [to the issue] of suspending African-American kids,” Goodwin said.

Renay Johnson, who’s about to start her second year as principal at Blair, said she’s proud of the fact that her administration cut the high school’s suspension rate by half during her first year by putting support systems in place to help kids succeed and build relationships with staff.

“It really does make a difference,” she said.

This summer, Blair sent at-risk male students to participate in a program held at Northwood High School in Silver Spring that’s designed to promote leadership skills. Students from Einstein and Kennedy high schools also attended the sessions run by MCPS security staff.

State education officials are also concerned about out-of-school suspensions and their impact on student success. In July, the State Board of Education approved new school discipline rules  focused on keeping kids in school—reducing the number of long-term out-of-school suspensions for nonviolent offenses— and creating less-punitive, more rehabilitative cultures in public schools.

State educations officials will be analyzing the disproportionate impact of school discipline on minority and special ed students. School systems identified as having school discipline that has a disproportionate impact on minorities must develop plans to reduce disparities in one year and eliminate them in three years. The same goes for the impact on special ed kids.

Goodwin, Whitman’s principal, notes that the new rules mean that schools won’t be able to suspend students for insubordination as much as they have in the past.

He pointed out that schools set their own goals each year for reducing suspensions; MCPS policy requires that no school suspension rate be higher than 6.5 percent of its student body. He says administrators also are working on alternatives to out-of-school suspensions.

A bit of good news: The new state rules require that districts are required to provide academic work for students who are home on suspension—something that MCPS already does.

“We’ve always done that,” Goodwin said. 

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