“Every second and a half during the school year a public school student receives an out-of-school suspension.” — Children’s Defense Fund. (2012) Moments in America for children.
Black students in the metropolitan Kansas City area are twice as likely as whites to be suspended from school, and this could be a violation of their right to public education.
Children who receive out-of-school suspensions are more likely to drop out of school altogether, and Missouri has the second highest suspension rate in the nation for black students. This is a problem not only for the students and their families, but also for society and the economy.
“If the students who dropped out of the Class of 2011 had graduated from high school, the nation’s economy would likely benefit from nearly $154 billion in additional income over the course of their lifetimes,” according to the Children’s Defense Fund’s The State of America’s Children 2012 Handbook.
Locally, the problem can be seen clearly by analyzing suspension statistics that districts report to the federal government. U.S. Department of Education officials require these reports because of concern that public school administrators may be suspending higher percentages of black students than white students. If so, such discrimination could be a civil rights violation, because young people have a constitutional right to education.
Both nationwide and locally on any given school day, black students are twice as likely to be suspended from school. The chart below shows that African Americans on the Missouri side of the state line in the Kansas City metropolitan area are much more likely to receive out-of-school suspensions than their white counterparts. The numbers are for students without disabilities. Numbers for students with disabilities are reported separately. Only one district — Excelsior Springs — suspends a higher percentage of white students, and their overall statistics are quite small. (Reports are not available for three districts: Center, Lee’s Summit and Platte County, because the education department samples schools and does not require reports from all.)
Not only is there a large gap in suspension rates between African-American and white students throughout the metro area, but four districts report especially high percentages of students spending time out of school. Although there is no standard percentage above which a district is deemed in violation, Children’s Defense Fund publications call attention to states where more than 10 percent of students receive at least one out-of-school suspension during the academic year. And the staff of the Civil Rights Project at the University of California, Los Angeles (which recently released a new report on this topic), describes suspension rates of over 25 percent as among the highest nationwide.
Locally, the Hickman Mills School District has the highest suspension rate for African American students, with more than a third suspended at least one time. Suspensions for white students — even though only half that rate — are still high, with 17 percent at home or on the streets at least once during the year. Earlier this fall, Missouri’s State Board of Education reclassified this district’s accreditation from certified to provisionally certified, and the large percentages of students serving out-of-school suspensions may be part of their problem. Students who are not in class cannot learn and are more likely to drop out.
The Kansas City, Missouri School District — which has been unaccredited since the start of this year — has the second-highest suspension rate for African Americans. And (as is the case at Hickman Mills) the rate for white students is much lower but still high at more than 14 percent.
Raytown has the third highest suspension rate for African Americans in the metropolitan area. Although a significant gap exists between the rates for black and white students, at least the suspension rate for white students is under 10 percent.
The fourth district reporting a high suspension rate is Grandview. More than 14 percent of African-American students there are suspended at least once during the year, while their white classmates receive suspensions at a far lower rate.
Of course, different treatment of students of different races may not necessarily be due to illegal discrimination. As the authors of the Civil Rights Project report point out, another possible explanation for this disparity may be that African American students could actually misbehave more often than white students. And perhaps it may be necessary to remove misbehaving students from the classroom to maintain a safe learning environment. However, according to this civil rights report, research does not support either assumption.
“Although a detailed analysis of justifications for suspension is beyond the scope of this report,” they write, “a strong body of research further indicates that frequent out-of-school suspension does not produce better learning environments, deter future misbehavior, or stimulate effective parental involvement … .”
A national civil rights organization — the Southern Poverty Law Center — has filed suit against five Florida districts for suspending African American students at higher rates than white students. That allegation is based on the same federal statistics showing high rates of discrimination in at least four Kansas City-area districts and large gaps in suspension rates of black and white students in almost every local district on the Missouri side of the state line. However, no organization has yet stepped forward claiming students here are being discriminated against or that their civil rights are being violated.
If you missed Part 1 of this series, click HERE.
Coming up next week: a closer look at suspension rates in Kansas City metropolitan-area districts for disabled students. It is our hope that this information may spark a community discussion about what can be done to improve discipline for all students in our schools, and especially for young people who may be singled out because of their ethnicity, gender or disability status.
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