Amid federal calls to reduce Wake County’s number of student suspensions, school administrators laid out Monday their plan for making discipline more equitable in North Carolina’s largest school district.
School leaders say they hope to eliminate racial disparities in discipline through efforts such as training to help staff relate to students from other cultures and encouraging alternatives to removing students from the classroom.
Administrators and school board members said that reducing the number of suspensions is essential to helping Wake reach its goal of having 95 percent of students graduate by 2020.
“If we want 95 percent of our students to graduate and eliminate academic gaps, we need to have our students in school,” said Brenda Elliott, assistant superintendent for student support services. “We need them to know that they belong in school.”
It’s part of an effort, administrators say, to make sure that removing students from school is the last resort so they can stay and learn.
Wake’s “Comprehensive Plan for Equitable Discipline Practices” comes in the context of the Obama administration’s January 2014 call for schools to ease up on zero-tolerance policies and to stop arresting students for minor disciplinary infractions.
Wake is also still under a federal civil rights investigation, dating to 2010, into allegations made by the state NAACP that African-American students and students with disabilities are disproportionately suspended.
African-American students accounted for 25 percent of Wake’s enrollment last school year but 62 percent of the district’s 11,205 suspensions. Students with disabilities accounted for 12 percent of Wake’s enrollment but a third of suspensions.
“We really wanted to be intentional about our work in how we’re going to reduce or eliminate the disparities or predictability of our outcomes by race,” Elliott said.
Administrators have identified 73 action steps in the plan, including:
▪ Having principals establish goals for reducing disparity in suspensions.
▪ Reviewing the Code of Student Conduct to ensure that consequences are age-appropriate.
▪ Analyzing suspension data to look for trends that reflect disparities.
▪ Providing training to staff and increase student participation in peer-mediation programs in middle schools.
▪ Training staff on culturally relevant instructional practices to help them relate to students who are different from them.
▪ Developing a districtwide equity plan and a district equity report card.
Board members questioned how the balance would be maintained between keeping kids in the classroom so they can learn and removing them when their behavior disrupts classmates.
Administrators said they want to make sure that teachers learn strategies such as developing agreements with other teachers to whom they can send a misbehaving student to while the youngster defuses.
“We want to provide resources and support to our teachers so that are some alternatives that they have before excluding a student from a classroom,” Elliott said.
Administrators said they’ve been trying to reduce suspensions in Wake since before the federal government got involved. These ongoing local steps have led to fewer suspensions, including a 23 percent decrease in the 2013-14 school year, compared with the prior year, of the number of individual students who were suspended.
Moving forward, Wake also plans to hold meetings with parents and students to discuss discipline practices. School board Chairwoman Christine Kushner said parents are very interested in having input on the issue.
“We all have a role to play in this,” she said. “This is going to take a big shift.”
Hui: 919-829-4534; Twitter: @nckhui