Black students in the Chapel Hill-Carrboro City Schools during the 2015-16 school year were 10 times more likely than white students to get a short-term suspension, according to a report released this month.
While black students were only 11 percent of the district’s enrollment, they received 51.3 percent of the short-term suspensions, compared to 23.6 percent for white students who made up 51.5 percent of the enrollment.
Hispanic students were 15.7 percent of CHCCS’ enrollment and received 13.7 percent of short-term suspensions, according to the racial equity report card released by the Youth Justice Project of the Southern Coalition for Social Justice.
CHCCS school leaders said they are working to ensure discipline is handled fairly.
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“This is an issue for our state and for our country and we need to figure out why that is so,” said Superintendent Pam Baldwin.
Baldwin said preliminary suspension data for the 2016-17 school year will show improvement, much of which is driven by new district initiatives.
Rani Dasi, school board chairwoman, said those include restorative practices, which focus on repairing relationships and training teachers and principals to view discipline through an equity lens.
“There’s progress being made.” Dasi said. “It’s not fast enough, it’s not big enough but work is happening and we’re making it a top priority for our district.”
‘A civil rights issue’
Meanwhile, in Durham Public Schools, black students were 8.7 times more likely than white students to receive short-term suspensions. Black students were 46 percent of the district’s enrollment but received 81.5 percent of the short-term suspensions,
White students in DPS made up 18.5 percent of the district’s enrollment, but received only 3.6 percent of the short-tern suspensions. Hispanics, roughly 30 percent of enrollment in 2015-16, had 12.3 percent of the short-term suspensions.
“When you look at the fact that these are primarily children of color, it becomes a civil rights issue,” said Peggy Nicholson, co-director of the Youth Justice Project, which works to ensure equity, fairness and justice for youth in education, juvenile and criminal systems.
Statewide, black students received 57 percent of all short-term suspensions even though they make up 26 percent of the student population. Across North Carolina’s 115 school districts, blacks students were handed short-term 4.4 times more than white students.
‘Call to action’
The Youth Justice Peoject used public data on academic achievement, school discipline, and juvenile court involvement to provide a snapshot of a community’s school-to-prison pipeline, which the Durham-based nonprofit describes as the “system of policies and practices that push students out of school and into the juvenile and adult criminal systems.”
In addition to suspensions, the report cards also look at graduation rates, college and career readiness and youth involvement in the court system.
“The Racial Equity Report Cards are intended to be a launching point for community education and discussion,” Nicholson said. “They are not meant as an attack on the critically important public institutions that serve our youth, but rather, as a call to action for students, parents, advocates, policymakers, and institutional stakeholders to collectively examine the causes of racial inequity in their community and develop solutions that will help young people, especially youth of color, avoid and escape the school-to-prison pipeline.”
DPS leaders pointed to recent revisions to the Student Conduct Code designed to reduce suspensions. Under the revised code, offenses such as plagiarism, dress-code violations, minor disruptive behavior or possession of cell phones or tablets such as iPads are no longer cause for suspension.
A 47-member task force co-chaired by Superior Court Judge Elaine O’Neal and Elizabeth Shearer, DPS’ executive director of student support services, worked on the revisions for a year to give principals more alternatives to suspensions. But suspensions actually increased dramatically at many schools during the 2015-16 school year, the first year they took effect. Many were driven by assaults on teachers and other school-based workers.
Kelvin Bullock, the school district’s director of equity affairs, said reports like the one released by the Youth Justice Project raise awareness, which is the first step in bringing about change.
“If we’re not aware of the gaps that exist and the disproportionalities, then no one can do anything to address them,” Bullock said.
The Youth Justice Project acknowledged that districts are trying various strategies to ensure fairness in discipline. The organization hopes the report cards, the first of which were issued last year, will help educate and launch conversations about the student-to-prison pipeline.
“There are schools and districts across the state making efforts to dismantle this pipeline,” codirector Ricky Watson Jr. said. “However, unless bold action is taken to devote funding, staff resources, and political will towards solving the problem, we will continue to see students of color left behind.”