Garner Cleveland Record

NC improves on school crime, suspensions and dropout rate; Wake figures mixed

Fewer North Carolina public school students are committing school crimes, getting suspensions, receiving corporal punishment and dropping out, according to new reports on 2012-13 school year data released Wednesday.

But the figures were mixed in Wake County, where district leaders focused Wednesday on improvements in the dropout rate and school crime rate. But the new state numbers also showed that Wake, whose suspension policies are under federal review, issued 1,155 more short-term suspensions last school year than the previous school year.

During the 2012-13 school year, Wake issued 15,378 short-term suspensions, in which students were kept out of school for 10 or fewer days. That was an 8.1 percent increase in Wake from the 2011-12 school year at the same time there was a statewide 4 percent drop.

Wake school officials pointed to the changes in recent years that have reduced the number of short-term suspensions from a high of 22,707 in the 2007-08 school year. Wake had taken steps such as creating a five-tier system of offenses and encouraging principals not to issue suspensions for minor infractions.

“(The) Wake Board of Education has been reviewing policy and making changes intended to keep more students from facing out-of-school suspension,” Renee McCoy, a Wake schools’ spokeswoman, said in a statement Wednesday. “WCPSS will continue to review this recently released data in our efforts to continue to make progress toward the academic achievement goals for all of our students.”

In addition, McCoy said, Wake administration and staff have been making more alternative settings available, to keep students attending school while still maintaining a “safe and orderly learning environment.”

Numbers debated

In a news release sent earlier Wednesday, Wake school officials said the reports show “Wake County schools are faring well compared with other N.C. school systems in managing discipline issues, campus crime, and reducing the number of dropouts.”

Wake, which is North Carolina’s largest school system, noted that the district had one of the state’s highest decreases in the dropout rate at 29.6 percent. District officials also pointed out that Wake had the lowest crime rate and the lowest suspension rate for high school students of the state’s largest school systems.

But Jason Langberg, an attorney for Advocates for Children’s Services, a project of Legal Aid of North Carolina, pointed out that the district’s news release fails to mention the increase in short-term suspensions and expulsions and that Wake has the highest long-term suspension rate of North Carolina’s largest systems.

Langberg is one of the attorneys who helped draft a 2010 complaint, under investigation by the U.S. Department of Education’s Office for Civil Rights, charging that Wake disproportionately suspends black and Hispanic students.

Langberg also helped draft a complaint filed in January asking the U.S. Department of Justice to investigate allegations that discriminatory school policing practices are leading to more arrests of minority students in Wake.

Langberg noted Wednesday that black students represent 24 percent of the district’s enrollment but received 60.9 percent of the short-term suspensions and 57.3 percent of the long-term suspensions, those lasting 11 or more days. He also said that the short-term suspension rate for black students was almost seven times greater than the rate for white students.

“Huge racial disparities continue to exist,” he said.

How gains were achieved

State education officials credited factors such as more school resource officers, positive behavioral intervention and support programs that reward students for good behavior with helping improve the school violence and discipline figures.

The state reported that 2.45 percent of high school students dropped out last school year, an 18.6 percent decrease from the prior year’s rate. There were 11,049 dropouts, compared with 13,488 in the 2011-12 school year.