The total number of days students were suspended fell across all school levels in the Schenectady City School District last school year, according to district data.
School officials presented the new data during a July 5 school board meeting, at which they also credited the increased use of the district’s diversion program, which allows students to forego part of a suspension if they instead take diagnostic tests and receive behavioral therapies.
The racial disparity among students who received suspensions – black students have historically been suspended at much higher rates than their white classmates – also narrowed compared with earlier years. During the 2017-18 school year, black students were 1.65 times more likely to be suspended than all other students. They were three times more likely to be suspended in the the prior year, according to the district data.
“We’ve remained very concerned that our relative risk for black students has been disproportionate,” said Andrea Tote-Freeman, district director of pupil personnel services. “We are happy to see that this number is finally starting to be reduced pretty significantly, and it is something we will not lose sight of.”
During the school year that ended last month, 201 Schenectady students were referred to a superintendent’s hearing – necessary for suspensions exceeding five days. Of those, 157 students opted into the diversion program. During the prior school year, nearly 300 students were referred to a superintendent’s hearing, and 142 opted for diversion.
Of the 157 students who opted for diversion last year, a little more than half successfully completed the program, Superintendent Larry Spring said. He said another group of students was still in the process of completing their diversion requirements, while a smaller share had stopped meeting the requirements, thereby falling into a full suspension.
(District officials did not provide a breakdown of the number of students who finished diversion, were still working to finish or had dropped out of the program all together.)
Elementary schools trimmed the largest percentage of student suspension days last school year -- from 509 in the 2016-17 school year to 299 last year. At the middle school level, 2,324 student suspension days were doled out last year, down from more than 3,400 suspension days the year before – a drop of 33 percent. At the high school, student suspension days slid by 15 percent, falling from 2,145 days to 1,818 days.
Spring said the decline in suspension days is a reflection of efforts to treat student behavior in more supportive ways, emphasizing the use of mediation and other so-called restorative practices, as well as converting what had been in-school suspension rooms to rooms used as places for students to calm down and receive personal attention.
“We are shifting the purpose of the room from: We are going to punish the kid and get contrition, to a place where the kid can de-escalate and get their feelings under control and get back into class,” Spring said of the converted spaces.
Moving forward, Spring said, educators will need to focus even more on students who are struggling with behavior and academic challenges that may not rise to the level of long-term suspensions, looking to intervene with students before their issues escalate.
“The thing we have to work on that burns brighter for me than any of those things is, just because a kid doesn’t get suspended or doesn’t do something that warrants a really long suspension, … those things don’t mean all problems with that kid are solved,” Spring said.