Blacks Contribute Disproportionately

As Rates of Suspensions Rise, District Examining Discipline

Student suspensions in the Oklahoma City Public School District were on the rise during this year’s first semester of this academic year.

The rate of suspensions is on the rise within the Oklahoma City Public School District, and that has caused the district to reexamine student discipline, as well as staff training practices.

Last week, officials presented data on student discipline to the school board.

The data revealed that about 2,700 students accounted for the 4,048 suspensions during the first semester this academic year.

That is a 33 percent increase in suspensions above first semester levels of the previous year, according to the data.

According to Chuck Tompkins, director of student discipline for the district, Black students account disproportionately for discipline problems.

Black students have spent the most time away from class on suspension this year, he said, noting that they comprise just 20.5 percent of the district’s student population.

Black students spent 6,764 days out of school over the first half of the year, the data revealed.

Contrastingly, Hispanic students, who comprise nearly 60 percent of the district’s study body, were on suspension 4,691 days during the first semester. 

White students, the district’s third-largest demographic, were suspended for 1,150 days.

As a consequence, administrators required all district staff-members take a 55-minute online course on implicit bias. 

Also, district officials are studying how to add more mandatory cultural sensitivity training on equity and relationship building, it has been learned.

Officials are determining how to add more mandatory training on cultural sensitivity next school year.

The district offers 112.5 hours of optional training on equity, inclusion and relationship-building.

Board Member Ruth Veales said optional training isn’t enough, not when most of the district’s teachers come from a different racial background than their students.

“We are in a district of over 83 percent students of color,” Board Member Veales said. 

“It really disturbed me to hear the word, ‘optional,’ for our teachers to have the kind of training necessary to speak to the students they are overseeing.”

Teachers across the United States are 80 percent white, according to the National Center for Education Statistics.  Only 7 percent of American teachers are black and 9 percent are Hispanic.

Racial variance is also evident in the average number of days students spend on suspension, according to statistics.

Hispanic students had the highest average length of suspension at 3.87 days this school year.

Students of two or more races had the lowest average suspension length at 2.89 days, school district data indicates.

Black students spent an average of 3.42 days on suspension while white students were suspended fan average of 3.1 days, district data says.

Though variances still exist, differences in suspension time are lower between student demographics compared to five years ago, Mr. Tompkins said.

In 2015, Native American students had the highest average of 6.2 days spent on suspension while students who identified as Pacific Islander had the lowest, with an average of 2.5 days.

The number of days students spend out of school also has decreased, the district discipline director said.

Students spent 14,068 days suspended from school in the first half of this school year, he pointed out, adding that they, collectively, spent 18,289 days suspended from class in the first semester of 2014-15.

Mr. Tompkins credited this to a reduction in suspensions for nonviolent behavior.

“You will remember, those of you who were around in 2015, one of our primary short-term suspensions were because of truancy,” Mr. Tompkins said. 

“So, a student was skipping school and we would suspend them for even more time out of school.”

The district has since prohibited schools from suspending students because of absences.

During a Jan. 27 work session, Supt. Sean McDaniel said the district needs greater consistency in the way discipline is enforced from school to school.

“What we’ve got to do as a district is provide clarity,” Supt. McDaniel said at the time.

“We’ve got to provide consistency so that, for the most part, if I go to middle school A and there’s a fight and it’s the first time, those kids are getting pretty much the same treatment kids at school B are getting for similar behaviors.”

John Marshall High School–and all the elementary and middle schools that feed into it–had the highest number of suspensions with 927, despite having only the fourth-largest student population of all high-school feeder patterns, district data reveals.

Capitol Hill High School and the schools in its feeder pattern had the second most suspensions with 684, the data notes.

More students are in schools that feed into Capitol Hill than any other high school in Oklahoma City, according to the data.

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