Education

Black students are punished twice as often as white students in Lexington schools

There are roughly twice as many white students as black students enrolled in Fayette County public schools. But last school year, nearly twice as many black students were given in-school suspensions compared to white students.

The same held for out-of-school suspensions, with twice as many black students being disciplined as white students.

That striking disparity in disciplinary rates compared to the district’s overall demographics is leading to new questions for district leaders. The fact that black students are punished twice as often as white students means the district needs new practices and policies, said NAACP education chair Shambra Mulder.

“How can we rethink the discipline practices in the schools?” Mulder asked Fayette County Public School board members during a recent meeting. “What we are doing is not working.”

“If you are not in the classroom you are not going to be able to learn,” Mulder said, referring to the out-of school suspensions. An in-school suspension involves the short-term removal of a student from the regular school schedule. Students assigned to in-school suspension are supervised at all times and are required to complete regular classwork.

Fayette County district officials said they are trying to fix the inequities.

“Our goal is for all students to learn in a positive learning culture and environment,” said Faith Thompson, Fayette County Director of Student Support Services. “But we know all too well that the national trend of black students being twice as likely as their white peers to receive punishment and be charged with offenses in school is a reality that holds true in our schools as well.”

“We know we cannot correct decades of disparities overnight, but the district is working to ensure that the data reflected in the annual School Report Card, produced by the Kentucky Department of Education, improves over time,” she added.

Here are the specific numbers:

▪ In 2016-17, 22.4 percent or 9,042 students in the district were black; 52.2 percent or 21,074 were white. Almost 16 percent, or 6, 405 were Hispanic and 1, 826 Asian. The total number of students in the district for 2016-17 in the district was 40,404.

▪ Black students in Fayette County accounted for 10,758 in-school suspensions in 2016-17, compared with 5,358 in-school suspensions for whites.

▪ There were 2,312 out-of-school suspensions for blacks in the school district compared with 1,185 out-of-school suspensions for white students in 2016-17, according to data on the district’s Kentucky Department of Education Report Card.

▪ The data in the district report card for 2016-17 showed that black students were involved in 12,649 incidents ranging from assault to tobacco offenses compared with 6,525 white students.

▪ Hispanic students were involved in 477 out-of-school suspensions in 2016-17 and 2,292 in-school suspensions.

▪  District officials reported to the state that black students were found in violation in 817 bullying and harassment incidents, compared to 444 incidents in which white students were found in violation.

▪ The district reported that black students were found in violation in 94 drug incidents, compared to 74 incidents for whites. Black students were expelled and received services from the district in four incidents as opposed to one white student. There were seven arrests of black students reported in 2016-17. One white student was arrested.

▪ One area in which white students committed more offenses was in tobacco: 96 incidents for whites, 23 for blacks.

The Fayette County Board of Education recently hired a Culture Responsive Teaching and Learning Coach to help address the inequities, Thompson said.

Mulder, who is a psychologist, said there were ways of helping students manage their emotions that district officials should explore. For one, Mulder suggested that every school in the district have a school psychologist.

Mulder told the Herald-Leader that problems with disproportionate discipline, achievement gaps by race, and lack of diverse teachers have been documented for over five years by the district equity council.

“I know some think that ... to take this issue on is hopeless,” said Mulder. “I want the board to continue to take this on until there is not such huge disproportionality.”

Fayette County public schools Superintendent Emmanuel "Manny" Caulk discusses improvements and changes seen in the past few years in a State of the Schools address at the Embassy Suites in Lexington.

Valarie Honeycutt Spears: 859-231-3409, @vhspears

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