Midtown Raleigh News

Report critical of Wake school discipline policies

A new report Monday from an advocacy group charges that the Wake County school system has fallen short on efforts to reduce both the length and number of student suspensions.

The report from Legal Aid of North Carolina’s Advocates for Children’s Services says progress has halted after Wake began making changes in 2010 to reduce the number of suspensions. The report says too many Wake students, particularly from low-income and minority families, are still being suspended and sent to inadequate alternative schools or into the criminal justice system.

“Unfortunately, systemic improvements have come to a screeching halt well short of much-needed comprehensive reform,” according to the report. “Little progress has been made over the last two years.”

In 2010 and 2011 under the former Republican school board majority, Wake ended the practice of requiring that long-term suspensions of more than 10 days last for the rest of the school year. The district also revised the recommended penalties for infractions to try to reduce how often students are kept out of class.

Between the 2007-08 and 2011-12 school years, short-term suspensions of 10 days or fewer decreased by 24 percent and long-term suspensions dropped by 48 percent.

But the report’s authors say the 14,223 short-term suspensions and 403 long-term suspensions issued in 2011-12 are still too many in the state’s largest school district. On average, one out of every 17 Wake students was suspended at least once, with black and low-income students being disproportionately suspended, according to the report.

“The Wake County Public School System does not have a comment at this time,” Renee McCoy, a Wake schools spokeswoman, said Monday. “WCPSS leadership has just received the report and is reviewing the document.”

The report found that 3,517 short-term suspensions were issued for the least severe infractions, such as skipping class and not following orders, even though Wake’s policy states that those out-of-school punishments “should be the last resort.”

Of the long-term suspensions, the report’s authors found that schools were still typically suspending students for the rest of the school year. The report also charged that the long-term suspension numbers are down because many students were referred to alternative schools that the paper’s authors say don’t provide adequate support.

The report also said it was “troubling” that during the 2011-12 school year there was a 23.5 percent increase from the previous year in the number of school-based delinquency complaints.

The report was also critical of the use of school resource officers, calling for higher training standards and not allowing them to have firearms or Tasers while on campus.

“If this was impacting academically gifted students or white middle-class students, we would have had action a long time ago,” said Jason Langberg, a co-author of the report and an attorney for Advocates for Children’s Services, which represents suspended students.

Earlier this month, the school board directed Superintendent Jim Merrill to review the recommendations from a school safety task force that included members of Advocates for Children’s Services. Recommendations included hiring more school-based counselors, social workers and nurses and beefing up anti-bullying efforts in schools.