Along with racial disparities
Suspensions are down in Duval public schools, continuing a seven-year decline, but the number of students who received at least one
out-of-school suspension grew for the first time in several years, especially among African-American students.
The NAACP in Jacksonville is expected to discuss the latest district data on school discipline Monday during its 5 p.m. education committee meeting at the Beaver Street Enterprise Center. The NAACP has monitored district progress on discipline disparities and slowing the school-to-prison pipeline.
The school-to-prison pipeline describes a long-term national trend, where black students are nearly twice as likely as white students to be expelled and 2.3 times more likely to be disciplined involving law enforcement, including arrests at school, according to data from the U.S. Department of Education’s civil rights department. Critics say these students are being pushed out of school and pushed into prison.
Duval district leaders for years have said they are working on alternatives to out-of-school suspensions, expulsions and arrests.“Schools are working closer with students to provide more positive interventions and increased levels of restorative practices, to improve student behavior, along with DCPS district-wide social skills programs,” said Jackie Simmons Jr., Duval’s executive director of discipline and student supports.
One example is the district’s Student Options for Success, an after-school program where students learn social skills in small groups, and where families interact with each other and a facilitator to develop communication skills, empathy, anger management, conflict resolution and other topics.
In addition, Duval has created and boosted the use of in-school suspension rooms and out-of-school suspension centers, so misbehaving students would have adult supervision and be encouraged to work on academic or social growth, despite being removed from class.
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Last year Duval recorded 8,536 cases involving restorative justice, down slightly from the year before.
These alternatives to suspension may be working, the data show.
In general, all “suspension events” fell from 65,889 in 2010 to 40,593 in June 2017. That’s 25,000 fewer suspensions — in-school and out-of-school — or a decline of 38 percent over seven years, the data show.
At least part of that can be attributed to the fact that habitually misbehaving students are receiving fewer suspensions in a given year, the data show.
But the number of students who received some of the stiffest punishments, such as suspensions outside of school, grew 7 percent last year. There were 6,053 students suspended out of school in 2015-16 and 6,464 last year.
“The data reflects an incremental increase in students suspended out of school,” Simmons said. “There is a significant decrease in both male and female students in suspension events and the numbers of days out of school.”
For instance, he said, the number of African-American female students receiving out-of-school suspensions increased by 45 students in the year but the number of suspension days out of school fell by 1,579 days. Similarly the number of African-American males receiving out-of-school suspensions grew by 126 students, he said, but their total number of days out of school fell by 2,919.
“This equates to 4,498 additional instruction days for African-American students in total,” he said.
Nevertheless, black students continued to receive many more out-of-school suspensions than their white peers, the data show.
The 1,766 African-American female students suspended out of school last year was more than seven times the number of white females suspended out of school: 251. And the 3,130 African-American male students suspended out of school was almost five times the number of white male students suspended out of school: 656.
In total 16 percent of all black female students in Duval were suspended, according to the data, and 25 percent of black male students were suspended. By contrast, a 4.6 percent of white female students and 9.5 percent of white male students were suspended.
“As a district we understand this trend — which has been historically reflected in school districts nationwide — and have worked closely with our student culture and climate teams to proactively assist schools in discussing cultural competency, equity and implicit bias and strategies to reduce the role of implicit bias in our schools and classrooms,” Simmons said.
Duval’s student body is 44 percent African-American, 35 percent Caucasian, 12 percent Hispanic, 4 percent Asian, 5 percent multiracial and less than 1 percent Native American.
Also principals are getting professional training in implicit biases. The district also is taking a “strong stance” on making sure schools adhere to the code of conduct, which spells specific ramifications for a variety of misbehavior, he said.
In general it hasn’t been easy to change discipline trends.
In each of the past three years, the number of African-American girls suspended outside school walls increased, but the number of African-American boys suspended outside schools dipped before tilting upward last year.
Unlike out-of-school suspensions, in-school suspensions and suspensions at centers showed declines across most ethnicities and genders over the last three years. To be sure, there are more in-school suspensions than out-of-school, and suspensions at centers has been dwindling and was phased out after June.
In total, suspended students made up 13.2 percent of Duval’s enrolled students in June 2017, down slightly from last year’s 13.6 percent.
“These numbers are a reflection of improved district policies around the Student Code of Conduct,” Simmons said.
Slightly more than half of the suspended students got suspended again within the same year.
The most common reasons for suspensions: skipping school or class, and disrupting class.
Denise Smith Amos: (904) 359-4083