The Office of Education Policy (OEP) at the University of Arkansas shared a new report on school discipline with the State Board of Education this morning. The report’s findings are similar to those found by AACF last year. Almost three times as many non-white students (10.2 percent) received out-of-school suspension as did white students (just 3.6 percent). It leads one to ask why non-white students are suspended at such a disproportionate rate.
OEP performed the study as required by Act 1329 of 2013. Sen. Chesterfield (D-Little Rock) sponsored this legislation in response to a 2013 report by AACF. Our report found that during the 2012 school year, black students were given out-of-school suspension more than five times as often as white students, in-school-suspension almost three times as often, and corporal punishment almost twice as often.
Another recent AACF report looked at data from the Arkansas Crime Information Center and found that during the three years between 2009 and 2011, 53 percent of children ages 6-18 arrested on school property were black. This is interesting considering black students only make up 21 percent of the state’s students.
Students should not be thrown into the juvenile justice system for incidents that happen at school. This helps create a school-to-prison pipeline that criminalizes behavior and puts too many young men of color behind bars. The OEP report recommends that schools and districts be required to report when they refer students to law enforcement authorities alongside other disciplinary data they already report, to build transparency into this practice.
In 2012 Daniel Losen of the Civil Rights Project at UCLA ranked states by the amount of in-school suspensions they dole out and by the disparity in the number of black and white students who receive out-of-school suspensions. Arkansas ranked 13thin the country in former category and 15th in the latter. The new OEP report recommended more research on the number of times individual students were suspended as well as several other categories.
The report presented to the state board on Friday also identified districts with the largest disparities between white and non-white students. Many districts had no disparity. The law requires that subsequent annual reports identify districts that are most successful in reducing disparities and districts with successful school discipline strategies and practices. These districts can serve as an example to others.
One thing that’s very easy to overlook in all this discussion of behavior and discipline is student engagement. That’s what our schools are there to do: keep our children engaged in learning. Schools that do so have the fewest discipline problems. Strategies such as Positive Behavior Intervention and Support Systems and Restorative Justice are proven ways to provide discipline and keep students in school and learning. These programs outline progressive levels of intervention as needed, including mental health supports and anger management. Restorative justice includes student courts and student-based solutions to resolve conflicts. Districts in Arkansas who are exploring these programs include Hot Springs, Jonesboro, and Bentonville.
We know schools can instill discipline without unfairly punishing non-white students because many of our schools are doing it already. Let’s make sure all of our districts work to improve in this area.