Web page to address high percentage of suspensions of black students

A group that includes African-American professors at Eastern Kentucky University is developing a Web page aimed at getting information to students and educators to help them reduce the disproportionate numbers of black students being suspended in Kentucky schools.

For the 2009-10 school year, 26 of every 100 African-American students in Kentucky were suspended for violations of board policies, compared with eight of every 100 white students, according to the Kentucky Safe Schools Data Project.

Superintendents, principals, teachers, and students will be able to go to the Web page and find information aimed at reducing suspensions and expulsions, said Sherwood Thompson, assistant dean in EKU's College of Education.

"We want to lend our academic resources to a problem that is mushrooming," Thompson said.

The Web page could be in operation by late fall, he said.

There will be information on what school districts in Kentucky and elsewhere in the United States are trying, including teacher training and creating student courts, to reduce the number of suspensions.

The group's efforts began May 10.

Jon Akers, executive director of the Kentucky Center for School Safety at EKU, who put together the group, said he hopes the efforts will help reduce suspensions for all students.

Officials working on the initiative also are exploring using a blog and the social-information network Twitter to keep Kentucky superintendents informed, Akers said.

Fayette County's rate of suspensions for African-American students was even higher than the statewide rate.

For the 2009-10 school year, 35 of every 100 African-American students were suspended in Fayette County, compared with nine of every 100 white students.

In February, Fayette County Public Schools and the Equity Council — a group that advises the school board — joined with the non-profit Children's Law Center to try to cut high rates of suspensions and disciplinary actions involving African-Americans and students with disabilities.

The agreement required Fayette County to reduce the disproportionately large number of suspensions among such students. With the help of the Kentucky Center for Instructional Discipline, the Fayette district is implementing a system called PBIS, or Positive Behavior Interventions and Supports, to help students and faculty avoid disciplinary conflicts. The program will be used in five pilot schools.

The question of fairness in discipline among students has become an issue for several districts in the state.

"The color of your skin should not be a factor in determining the discipline you receive in any school in any district in Kentucky," said Terry Brooks, executive director of the non-profit Kentucky Youth Advocates.

In May, the law center and other legal organizations filed a complaint against the Jefferson County school district, asking the U.S. Department of Education to require the district to change its policies so blacks and disabled students don't face harsher discipline than others.