Wake County schools have seen a 45 percent drop in suspensions during the past five years, as leaders have adopted new approaches such as encouraging principals not to kick students out of school for what are labeled “less serious” offenses.
School administrators presented statistics Monday showing that the number of suspensions has dropped from 20,244 in the 2009-10 school year to 11,205 in the 2013-14 school year. Long-term suspensions fell 69 percent during that period, while short-term suspensions – removal from school for 10 days or fewer – dropped 44 percent. Most of the district’s suspensions are short-term.
“All in all, a very positive trend,” school board member Bill Fletcher said at Monday’s student achievement committee meeting.
Fletcher called the trend “supportive of our long-term goal of keeping kids in the classroom and helping them to make good choices to learn.”
The reduction in suspensions comes as the U.S. Department of Education’s Office for Civil Rights continues to investigate a 2010 complaint that claimed Wake disproportionately suspends African-American students.
Wake has made multiple changes in recent years to its discipline policies, including reclassifying violations in 2011 into five separate levels with differing consequences.
Principals have been told that Level I offenses – violations such as skipping class, using inappropriate language, disrespecting a school employee and having a cellphone turned on during the school day – should not generally result in out-of-school suspensions. Instead, principals are to consider alternatives such as in-school suspensions.
Between the 2012-13 and 2013-14 school years, short-term suspensions dropped 29 percent overall and 27 percent among African-American male students.
Suspensions could drop further this year because of another policy change. Principals are discouraged from imposing out-of-school suspensions for Level I offenses unless a student commits three in a semester. Principals can suspend a student for a first or second Level I offense if the principal speaks with a higher-ranking area superintendent and cites aggravating factors.
Administrators have identified a dozen next steps, including:
• Reviewing discipline reports by race and ethnicity at individual schools.
• Teaching educators how to get along better with people from different cultures.
• Focusing on addressing the harm done by an offense rather than on punishment.
Groups that have been urging Wake to suspend fewer students noted that 62 percent of the suspensions last school year were given to African-American students, who account for 25 percent of the enrollment.
“They are more open to working with students and parents directly impacted by harsh discipline practices,” said Sanyu Gichie, an organizer for the Triangle-based Youth Organizing Institute. “There’s a lot of potential for things to improve, but we’ve got a long way to go.”