By Charles Hallman
Black students are far more likely than their peers to be suspended or expelled from school. A U.S. Department of Education report released last week includes new data from the 2009-10 Civil Rights Data Collection (CRDC) showing that Black students in Minneapolis face harsher discipline than their White, Latino, Asian and Native American counterparts.
Based on the most recent nationwide CRDC data available (from 2006-07), out-of-school suspension rates for Black students in Minneapolis are significantly greater than for the state of Minnesota as a whole (9,911, 32 percent) and for U.S. students as a whole (1.24 million, 37 percent).
The CRDC report shows that although Black students in Minneapolis make up less than 38 percent of the student population, they accounted for 77 percent of the total out-of-school suspensions in the 2009-10 school year. One out of every three Black students in Minneapolis was suspended at least once during that year, compared to less than five percent of White students. (See data table below)
Minneapolis North Assistant Principal Vernon Rowe, an 18-year MPS veteran teacher and administrator who was named to his present position earlier this month, says of the high number of suspensions, “There are some kids who do act out.”
Rowe, who has taught at the elementary, middle school and secondary level, points out, “I would say the toughest years for our kids are those middle years. You go from an elementary setting where there is just one teacher with 30-some kids. Then you put them in a middle-school environment [where] they have a schedule of six periods in a day, which is a major transition.
“Then you put them in a high school, and ninth grade is the toughest because I’ve doubled the population from middle school and I got to make my way through that,” Rowe continues. “By 10th, 11th and 12th grade, you will see a major decline in suspensions. Those kids getting suspended in 10th, 11th and 12th grade are the repeat offenders.”
According to the CRDC report, Cityview (230), Anwatin (205) and Olson (165) recorded the highest number of Black students who received more than one suspension in 2009-10 among the seven MPS middle schools. Also, four of the seven city high schools — North (230), Henry (200), Edison (150) and South (110) — had the highest number of Black repeat suspensions, and Lucy Laney (160) reported the highest among the 39 MPS elementary schools.
Overall, two-thirds of the MPS schools reported either in-school or out-of-school suspensions, but 27 schools had zero students suspended in the reporting period. St. Paul Public Schools (SPPS), which was not in the national report, also has high Black suspension rates.
“While African American students constitute 30 percent of the [St. Paul] student population, 73 percent of the suspensions during the first two quarters of this school year were experienced by African American students,” admits SPPS Chief Accountability Officer Michelle Walker.
She adds that in the 2010-11 school year, “African American students were five times as likely as Caucasian students to be suspended, three times as likely as Hispanic students, and twice as likely as American Indian students.”
The district’s Equity Vision Card also showed that over nine percent of Blacks are likely to be suspended at least once in elementary school, 31 percent in junior high, and 19 percent in high school. Other than Blacks, only Native American students (16 percent in junior high, 13 percent in high school) have double-digit suspension rates in St. Paul schools.
“Saint Paul Public Schools has begun to carefully examine issues of equity and disproportionality within our district,” says Walker, adding that “positive behavioral supports and interventions…and becoming more informed where there are challenges” are now in place.
“Mental health plays a major role in why we are seeing many of these African American kids get into the situations that they are in,” believes Rowe. “I’ve seen school systems and schools deal with a lot with kids that make the learning environment dysfunctional.”
Rowe also surmises that integrating schools decades ago might have, in the long term, hurt rather than helped Black students. “There was nothing wrong educationally with [all-Black] schools — it was just that the materials that those schools had were defective.
“The easiest way…was to integrate schools. We integrated kids, but what happened to those Black teachers? We never integrated teachers. I just think suspensions are a result of this.”
Rowe is convinced that “Until we start addressing issues of mental health…and the community starts recognizing that issue,” reducing the Black suspension rate will continue to be a problem. He recalls that Black student suspensions were not as common in the past as they are today.
“The reason in the past why those types of things didn’t happen was because we had churches, groups and families that were a whole lot more connected. They would take in the discipline component. But those things have changed.”
To see the full CRDC report, go to http://ocrdata.ed.gov.
Charles Hallman welcomes reader responses to firstname.lastname@example.org.