Chapel Hill News

Black students 5 times more likely than whites to be suspended

Black students in Chapel Hill-Carrboro schools are fives times more likely than white students to be suspended and three times more likely to be sent to the office, according to data presented to the school board Thursday night.

Latino students also get disciplined more frequently than white students,

The data showed some positive trends: all three demographic groups were disciplined less often last school year than the year before.

Still, board members expressed concern about lingering disparities in risk ratios, or comparisons between demographic groups’ likelihood of being disciplined for such behavior as aggression, disruption and disrespect.

“If you just had to look at one set of data, it’s the risk ratio that goes straight to the heart,” said board member David Saussy.

During the 2012-13 school year, the district began to review discipline protocols and systems, collecting data and “looking at it through the race lens,” said Nancy Kueffer, the district coordinator for compliance and behavior support. Strategies were implemented to reduce these disparities.

Kueffer shared the report with the board, saying the ratios “are moving in a positive direction,” but there is still work to be done.

“We want to be moving to 1:1. That’s our major goal,” Kueffer said. A 1:1 ratio would mean that white and minority students are at equal risk of discipline.

The likelihood of white, Latino and black students receiving in-school suspension, out-of-school suspension or being referred to the office stayed the same or dropped.

The gap between black and white students’ likelihoods of receiving discipline also decreased. But black students’ risk of receiving in-school suspension compared to white students’ increased.

Preventive approach

The report also looked at how well a program called Positive Behavioral Interventions and Supports is doing to support good behavior. PBIS emphasizes a preventive approach to misbehavior.

“It’s just a way to change a culture of school where the focus is on looking for positive behaviors and making those the norm,” Kueffer said.

PBIS, among other efforts, contributed to the drop in disciplinary actions last school year, Kueffer said. She said the district’s code of conduct is also being reviewed and may be revised to be clearer and more concrete.

Discipline is not the only area in which gaps persist between white students, the majority, and students of other races, Kueffer said.

“When we have the same gaps and discrepancies in discipline as we’re seeing in academics, we have to wonder if there’s something going on in the social-emotional side of a student’s life that needs addressing,” she said.

At the board meeting, the concern was raised that the data in the report might suggest some groups are better behaved than others.

“It’s appalling, it’s very upsetting, and it may make people think it’s that group,” Kueffer said. “Instead, I want them to think that it’s the people that teach that group that make that happen.”

Several board members echoed this sentiment, saying that the data reflects only offenses punished, not committed.

“You can’t assume there’s consistency,” board member Jamezetta Bedford said.

“I think there’s still some underlying disproportionality, not in the identification of offenses or the commission of offenses, but in how they’re being handled,” Saussy agreed.