The same consultant group that helped Schenectady reorganize its special education department will now evaluate student suspensions.
The district suspends more black students than white students, even though both groups make up an equal amount of the student population, Superintendent Laurence Spring said.
He called the data “hard to look at.”
“We need to look at equity issues,” he said.
Spring wants to make sure misbehaving white students are given the same punishments as misbehaving black students. But he doesn’t know whether that’s happening.
“We need to do a little checking to make sure,” he said.
He’s also concerned that all students, regardless of race, might be given harsher punishment than necessary. He’s put together a list of guidelines so that all administrators mete out the same punishment for the same offense.
He said he’s heard some administrators say they want to suspend a student, rather than handing out a lesser punishment, when the student curses in certain ways.
“It’s, ‘But they said this!’ But you know what? It’s still just bad words,” he said.
Spring also wants the District Management Council group to review school climate to see whether it leads to black students acting badly.
“We should be having different conversations about climate in schools,” Spring said.
In particular, he cited problems at Mont Pleasant Middle School, where the principal had to leave suddenly because of a medical emergency.
“It compounded what we knew was going to be a difficult year with the closing of Oneida [Middle School] and the blending of those faculty and students,” Spring said.
Administrators are carefully planning the beginning of the coming school year now, he said, to make expectations clear from Day One.
The hope is to significantly reduce suspensions. Last year, 28 percent of the district’s suspensions were at Mont Pleasant, which houses only 8 percent of the district’s students.
The suspension issue has been raised at a state level because students who are suspended tend to drop out of school.
The Alliance for Quality Education (AQE) recently criticized the state Education Department for issuing what it termed as “vague” rules regarding suspensions. The Education Department says students can be suspended for being “insubordinate” or “disruptive” — even if they are not putting others in danger. Many students statewide are suspended for skipping school, for example.
Michael Hogan, an associate dean at Long Island University and a former superintendent who spoke at an AQE press conference recently, said he changed the rules in his district to punish those students without provoking them to simply stop coming to school altogether.
He instituted in-school suspension when students skipped school, telling his principals that when they handed out lengthy out-of-school suspensions, they were essentially “losing” those students.
When Spring looked at Schenectady’s record, he found that black students were disproportionately suspended. Black students also drop out at much greater numbers than white students.
There were 313 suspensions this school year, but only 18 percent of the students suspended were white. Black students made up 58 percent of the suspensions.
White students make up 32 percent of the student population, while black students make up 33 percent of the population.