Wake County schools are suspending fewer students, but black students are still being disciplined at what school leaders say is a disproportionately high rate.
A report presented Monday shows Wake has reduced the number of student suspensions by 19 percent since 2011 to 11,883 issued last school year. But the rate at which Wake’s African-American students are being suspended continues to raise concerns.
Wake’s black students accounted for 63 percent of total suspensions and 58 percent of individual suspensions last school year even though they only make up 24 percent of the enrollment.
“It’s improving, but it’s still a cause for concern,” school board member Keith Sutton said of the drop in suspensions. “But the disproportionality with which some racial groups are being suspended is concerning.”
Wake is under an ongoing federal civil rights investigation looking at whether its discipline practices discriminate against minority students.
School administrators pointed out Monday that 11 percent of African-American students and 14 percent of African-American male students received a suspension last school year. Overall, only 4 percent of Wake’s more than 157,000 students last school year received a suspension.
Wake has launched several efforts over the past seven years to try to reduce the number of out-of-school suspensions, including encouraging principals to use alternatives such as in-school suspensions to keep students on campus and attending classes.
Brenda Elliott, assistant superintendent for student support services, pointed to how Wake’s short-term suspension rate is lower than the state’s other large school districts.
“We really use out-of school suspensions very infrequently,” she said.
School board members raised a concern Monday about how suspensions for elementary school students are up 19 percent since 2011. The number of suspensions for elementary school students increased by 416 last school year to 2,371.
Sutton, chairman of the school board’s student achievement committee, asked staff to report back on what’s happened in other school districts that have stopped suspending elementary students.
Staff members said that while suspension rates of elementary students increased, those students are suspended at much lower rates than middle and high school students.