Reports Find More and More Young Students - Many of Them African-American -Are Being Sent Home as a Disciplinary Action; SHOULD KENTON BE SUSPENDED?

By Amos, Denise Smith | The Florida Times Union, April 19, 2014 | Go to article overview

Reports Find More and More Young Students - Many of Them African-American -Are Being Sent Home as a Disciplinary Action; SHOULD KENTON BE SUSPENDED?


Amos, Denise Smith, The Florida Times Union


Byline: Denise Smith Amos

Kindergartner Kenton Morris was scared when he was removed from class for acting up and put in a computer lab to do his work. While alone, the 6-year-old tried calling his mother but forgot her number, so he dialed 911. Several times. His school, Duval Charter at Arlington, sent him home, suspended for two days.

But his mother, Tonya Morris, says that punishment was too harsh, especially since adults had left him alone.

"Something needs to be done about these disciplinary actions," she said. "These are kindergartners. What are we saying when we send them home? We want our kids to stay in school. We don't want them to be suspended."

National figures indicate that Kenton may be part of a bigger trend: Suspension is becoming more common among the youngest students, especially African-American students like Kenton.

A recent report by the U.S. Department of Education's Office of Civil Rights shows that while black students were only 16 percent of all public school students in 2011, they made up 33 percent of students suspended out of school, 34 percent of those who were expelled, 27 percent of students referred to law enforcement, and 31 percent of students arrested for school-related offenses.

And such disparate discipline often starts early. The data show black preschoolers were 18 percent of all preschoolers in public school but 48 percent of preschoolers suspended more than once.

In Kenton's case, a spokeswoman for the school's management company said school leaders generally follow "progressive" discipline policies, giving students multiple chances to correct themselves before suspending them. Also, the school's code of conduct - the same as Duval's - doesn't tailor punishment to a child's age, she said.

That may not matter.

The U.S. Justice Department and the U.S. Education Department in January sent schools a guidance letter, warning that disparate discipline patterns may also indicate a tendency to discriminate.

"Research suggests that the substantial racial disparities of the kind reflected in the (civil rights) data are not explained by more frequent or more serious misbehavior by students of color," the letter states.

"The Departments' investigations ... found cases where African-American students were disciplined more harshly and more frequently because of their race than similarly situated white students. In short, racial discrimination in school discipline is a real problem."

In Duval and its four surrounding counties, black students were nearly three times more likely to receive in-school suspensions than their white peers, making up 56 percent of all such suspensions when blacks were 31 percent of the student population.

For students receiving out-of-school suspensions, black students were three times more likely than whites to be suspended out of school at least once and almost four times more likely than whites to be suspended more than once, according to the 2011 federal data.

Blacks in the First Coast made up 60 percent of those serving out-of-school suspensions.

The local and regional data doesn't count students with disabilities, but counts them in a separate analysis.

RESULTS NOT UNIFORM

More up-to-date data from Duval County Schools for 2012 and 2013 shows that out-of-school suspensions fell1 percent over the two years and in-school suspensions fell 7 percent, but the declines were not uniform.

White students' out-of-school suspensions fell 9 percent, while blacks' out-of-school suspensions rose 1 percent. And in-school suspensions among white students fell 19 percent while falling just 2 percent among black students.

Duval Superintendent Nikolai Vitti said there are complexities behind those numbers, some having to do with student behavior, some with teachers' and administrators' behaviors and assumptions, and some with parents. …

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