While expulsion and suspension rates during the 2015-16 school year are down in D.C. Public Schools compared to previous years, black students are still disproportionately affected by school disciplinary methods, according to a report released by the Office of the State Superintendent of Education.
While fewer than 1 percent of white DCPS students were suspended during the 2015-16 school year, more than 10 percent of black DCPS students were suspended at least once during the same period of time, according to a report titled “Reducing Out-of-School Suspensions and Expulsions in District of Columbia Public and Public Charter Schools.”
The report was published Jan. 6 as required by the Attendance Accountability Act of 2013, which requires the OSSE to annually report the rate of student suspension and expulsion and to recommend initiatives for schools to reduce these rates.
In the 2015-16 school year, total suspensions were down 27 percent in all DCPS schools with 7,324 students suspended during the year compared to 8,400 students suspended during the 2014-15 school year. During the 2015-16 school year, DCPS expelled 99 students, down 26 percent from the 134 expulsions in the previous school year.
The report credits these decreases to new initiatives introduced during the 2015-16 school year.
According to DCPS spokesperson Fred Lewis, the OSSE directed schools to adopt a new set of procedures to address student behavior, including practices such as communicating directly with parents and guardians to address student conduct and creating alternative school settings that discipline students without forcing them to miss school.
However, the report found that there are still discrepancies in the suspension and expulsion rates between white and black students. Black DCPS students are nearly seven times more likely to be suspended than their white counterparts.
At Kramer Middle School, where 98 percent of students of its 247 students are black, almost 42 percent of students were suspended during the 2015-16 school year. At John Hayden Johnson Middle School, where 97 percent of its 290 students are black, 33 percent of them were suspended during the same period.
Lewis said the OSSE is encouraging schools to examine cases of expulsion and suspension and create individual initiatives to reduce these rates at each school.
“The guidance also emphasized implementing discipline practices that are non-discriminatory in nature or application and do not result in a disproportionate and unjustified effect on a particular subgroup of students,” Lewis wrote in an email to The Hoya.
DCPS spokesperson Janae Hinson said DCPS is actively working to close the gaps through programs such as restorative justice.
“At DCPS all means all, so we want all of our students in class every day,” Hinson wrote in an email to The Hoya. “Both Kramer Middle School and Johnson Middle School have started restorative practices this school year, so we will begin seeing reductions in suspensions.”
Daphne Chiang (MSB ’19), a member of Georgetown’s D.C. Schools Project, an organization that sends Georgetown students to tutor in underserved District schools, said the rates of expulsion and suspension along racial lines is alarming, and issues such as language barriers should play a role in student discipline.
“Since the majority of students we work with are newcomers struggling to learn English as a second language, there is difficulty in explaining what happened — perhaps resulting in an uncalled for suspension of all students involved,” Chiang wrote in an email to The Hoya. “Instead of blanketing restorative measures across schools, it’s important to recognize the specific needs that need to be addressed.”
Georgetown University Program in Educational Transformation Director Douglas Reed, who is also a professor in the government department, said the gaps in the report show more progress needs to be made.
“While the data seem to show some progress, the gulf between charters and neighborhood schools, as well as black-white divide, means there’s still a lot of work to do,” Reed wrote in an email to The Hoya.
Angelica Garcia (COL ’18), another member of the D.C. Schools Project, said DCPS must strive to address the racial barriers at play in their rates of suspension and expulsion going forward.
“No one would want to want to participate and learn in an environment where their struggles are not recognized and in many cases, outright dismissed,” Garcia wrote in an email to The Hoya. “Education is a powerful weapon that provides more than just a pathway to college.”
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