Wake Ed

Racial gaps found in Wake County student arrests, suspensions

The Wake County school board will discuss Tuesday racial disparities in student arrest and suspension rates in North Carolina’s largest school system.

The work session agenda includes a report showing that the odds of being arrested for fighting are 1.67 times higher for Wake’s black students as compared to other students. The report also shows that the odds of being arrested for theft are 1.7 times for black students as compared to other students.

Additionally, black students accounted for 69 percent of the referrals made by school resource officers to the adult criminal justice system, juvenile petitions, teen court, and other restorative programs.

The board will also get a report Tuesday showing that African-American students accounted for 63 percent of Wake’s total suspensions this past school year while making up 24 percent of the enrollment. African-American students also represented 59 percent of Wake’s individual suspensions.

Board members and staff are expected to discuss whether the disparities are the result of racial bias or other factors.

The new data comes as activists locally and nationally have questioned wht black students are arrested and suspended at higher rates than other racial groups. In January 2014, several local and national groups filed a federal complaint charging that the Wake school system and local law enforcement agencies “unnecessarily and unlawfully punish and criminalize minor misbehaviors” of students from minority groups.

For the past few years, the U.S. Department of Education’s Office of Civil Rights has investigated a different complaint about minority students being disproportionately suspended at higher rates in Wake.

Under an agreement reached in June 2014, local law enforcement agencies that provide school resource officers agreed to keep track of all referrals of students to the adult criminal justice system, juvenile petitions, teen court, and other restorative programs. The data is disaggregated by race and gender overall and by agency.

For instance, 850 referrals were made during the 2014-15 school year with 48 percent to the adult system, 33 percent the juvenile system and 18 percent to teen court.

The school system went even deeper to further investigate security violations by race, leading to the data on disparities for arrests for fighting and theft.

In terms of suspension data, Wake is reporting that suspension rates and totals have dropped compared to five years ago. But the totals were higher for the 2014-15 school year than the prior year.

For instance, there’s been a 34 percent reduction in the number of suspensions since the 2010-11 school year. Also during that time period, short-term suspensions (those under 10 days) are down 34 percent and long-term suspensions are down 44 percent.

But in the 2014-15 school year, the number of suspensions were up 6 percent from the prior year. Also compared to the 2013-14 school year, short-term suspensions were up 5 percent and long-term suspensions were up 19 percent.

The other work session topics are updates on the implementation of the district’s strategic plan and the academic support and resources being provided to the Elementary Support Model schools.

The agenda for the regular meeting looks fairly light with no items on the action agenda.