Members of Fayette County Public Schools' Equity Council are calling for the district to eliminate most out-of-school suspensions and suggesting that principals be held accountable for students they discipline.
Brian Hodge, chairman of the council's suspension committee, is suggesting that principals sign a letter of agreement that requires them to track suspensions for students who are black, Hispanic, poor and disabled. Principals would appear before the equity council to explain the data.
"We have asked the district for solutions while trying to be patient, and it appears all we get are promises that things are gonna get better, but yet they never do," Hodge said in a letter to his fellow equity council members. "Simply put, this is a freight train that's running down the track and going nowhere fast."
Hodge made the comments during an Equity Council meeting Tuesday, the same day the council met to discuss results from the 2014 Fayette Equity Scorecard that showed "there has been slow progress" closing the suspension gaps between white students and those who are black and Hispanic, between economic groups and between those who are disabled and those who are not.
If out-of-school suspensions were mostly eliminated, it's likely that schools would model their programs after one that began last year at Paul Laurence Dunbar High School.
For most rules violations at Dunbar, students, instead of being suspended, serve their punishments in school under close supervision, keeping up with classroom work and receiving interventions that could help them avoid more trouble, school officials have said.
In November, just a few months into the 2013-14 school year, Dunbar reported there were 25 students who had committed rules violations that previously would have resulted in out-of-school suspensions. Only two of them broke the rules again after being placed in the alternative punishment program at school, the Herald-Leader reported last year.
No Dunbar students were suspended during 2013-14, compared with 161 in 2012-13, according to data released last week to the Herald-Leader.
"It is working," said principal Betsy Rains. "We aren't seeing as many students who are doing offenses that would result in suspensions."
Offenses such as fighting, drugs and alcohol can land a student in the program.
Kids don't want to enter the in-school program, so it's a deterrent. "We really look at them and analyze them and dig in deep as to why they are behaving the way they are," said Rains.
In 2012-13, 13.7 percent of black students were suspended compared to 3.5 percent of white students. The scorecard showed 7.6 percent of poor students were suspended compared to 4.3 percent who were better off financially, and 14.4 percent of disabled students were suspended compared to 5 percent who were not disabled.
The number of suspended black students decreased from 15 percent, or 1,361 in 2011-12 to 13.7 percent or 1,264 in 2013-14, but Equity Council members said that was not good enough.
Council member Ron Langley, who worked on compiling the scorecard, said of most concern was that suspensions resulted from "subjective" decisions.
School Superintendent Tom Shelton has said he would consider expanding the Dunbar program district-wide.
School board chairman John Price said at the Equity Council meeting that he hoped more schools would move in that direction.
The Equity Council, which monitors and analyzes equity issues, advises the Fayette County Board of Education and advocates for achievement for all students, is set to discuss the suspension issue with the school board at a planning meeting Oct. 13.
"Our kids cannot learn when they are not in the building," Price told the council.
The number of suspensions at each of Fayette County's high school declined from 2012-13 to 2013-14, according to data released by the district. The data did not include information about minorities.
Price told the council that one possibility the board could consider would be to require teachers to undergo training to increase their understanding of various cultures.
Equity Council chair Roy Woods said cultural training might help teachers make better decisions about discipline, which could "help the suspensions go down."