THE DISCIPLINE GAP; Duval Schools Suspend More Black Students Than White

By Amos, Denise | The Florida Times Union, July 30, 2017 | Go to article overview

THE DISCIPLINE GAP; Duval Schools Suspend More Black Students Than White


Amos, Denise, The Florida Times Union


Byline: Denise Amos

Nearly 80 percent of the students suspended last year from Duval public schools were African-American, district data shows. More than 70 percent of students who served in-school detention were African-American.

Seventy-percent of the students referred for discipline were African-American.

African-American students make up 44 percent of Duval's student body.

In contrast, white students are less likely to be suspended or punished than their numbers in the student population would suggest.

Just 12 percent of the students suspended from school were white and 18 percent of those in in-school detentions were white. White students are 36 percent of Duval's student population.

Duval County, like many districts across the nation, struggles to close a "discipline gap," in which black students are punished far more often than their numbers in the student body would indicate.

School Board Vice Chairwoman Ashley Smith Juarez recently asked interim Superintendent Patricia Willis for more data on disparate discipline and for ideas on ways to tackle it.

Willis is expected to include that in a teacher training plan she will unveil later this year, Smith Juarez said.

"To truly understand what is generating the disproportionate number of referrals issued to African-American students, we have to conduct deeper inquiry," Smith Juarez said. "In short, the ... data gives an awareness that we need to ask more questions and solve for the reasons African-American students are so over-represented."

This isn't a new situation for Duval.

District and community leaders in recent years closely scrutinized discipline numbers and former Superintendent Nikolai Vitti made promises to whittle down systemic inequalities in the district's discipline practices and conduct code.

He tried a variety of things to bring down serious infractions and reduce disparities. The district rewrote its code of conduct, so punishments fit the misbehavior and discipline is meted out uniformly.

The district also trained principals, school resource officers and deans of discipline in cultural sensitivity and conflict resolution. School leaders also promoted "restorative justice" techniques instead of punishment and expanded mentoring, "wrap-around" family services and student behavioral health services.

Meanwhile, the Jacksonville Journey worked with the district to create and staff out-of-school suspension centers, called ATOSS centers, where suspended students could continue schoolwork under adult supervision. The centers are being phased out for lack of use, because students are more often given in-school suspensions than out-of-school suspensions.

Yet Duval's discipline disparity remains.

Hank O. Rogers, a longtime youth advocate who served on the code of conduct committee, said Duval's problem may not be with its programs but with people implementing them.

"I don't blame the district or the former superintendent," he said. "Many of the programs that the district created to curb behavior were not implemented at every school with fidelity. If they were, the conversation would indeed be different."

He said parents and guardians also need to be better partners with educators, who sometimes are left with few alternatives to suspension.

"It's not popular, but when you have parents who refuse to attend parent conferences, change their (phone) numbers throughout the school year and the school can't reach them, it does leave administrators no other option," he said. "Teachers and administrators attempt to use every method and intervention before (out-of-school suspension). …

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