Last month, the local branch of the New York Civil Liberties Union warned Capital Region school districts about disparate suspension rates for students of color.
In some local districts, like Saratoga Springs and Burnt Hills-Ballston Lake, students of color were at least eight times more likely to be suspended than their white classmates, according to 2015-2016 school year data released by the federal government last year.
And the disparities were widespread in the region, with urban, suburban and rural districts all reporting significantly higher suspension rates for students of color compared to white students.
“I think the numbers speak for themselves,” Melanie Trimble, director of the Capital Region chapter of the civil liberties organization, said in an interview. “For any school district with a large disparity where children are disciplined seven or nine times the rate of white students, there is an underlying problem there. I don't think those high numbers can be ignored.”
A Gazette analysis of the federal data last year showed suspension disparities along racial lines were prevalent across the Capital Region, with students of color at least twice as likely to be suspended as their white classmates in nearly every district in the region.
The NYCLU in its own analysis last month found a similar pattern.
“These local disparities appear in all types of school districts: urban, suburban and rural,” according to the local NYCLU analysis, which the group provided to the superintendents of 75 school districts across eight counties. “The demographic make-up of the district does not appear to make a difference when it comes to disciplining students of color at disproportionate rates.”
Across the region, in districts with at least 30 black students, those students were on average 3.85 times more likely to be suspended than their white classmates, according to the NYCLU analysis. Hispanic students on average were 1.5 times more likely to be suspended than their white classmates in districts with at least 30 Hispanic students.
Trimble said the organization wanted to provide districts with the data and offered to provide support for districts looking to improve their suspension rates. She said the organization will keep an eye on the suspension data to see if districts are showing improvement in the coming years.
“This analysis simply takes the data and puts it in front of the districts,” Trimble said. “We certainly hope that districts that see large disparities will at least work on reducing that disparity.”
Trimble cited proposed state legislation that seeks to reduce disproportionate use of suspensions and require districts adopt restorative practices in their student codes of conduct. The bill, which has not moved out of committee in the state Assembly, expands training requirements and narrows the circumstances under which schools can suspend students.
Even if that bill doesn't become law, Trimble said, districts should adopt the practices and procedures outlined in the proposed legislation. The NYCLU's analysis also outlined a series of recommendations: end zero tolerance discipline policies; adopt positive and restorative alternatives to suspension; better protect student rights at suspension hearings; increase transparency around discipline and safety practices; and, limit the impact of implicit bias through training and policies.
When contacted about the suspension data last spring, district leaders across the region said they were working to mitigate disparities – though some did suggest the small number of students of color in their district exacerbated the disparities.
“Obviously, we are concerned about any data that indicates there is a bias in our school,” former Mohonasen Superintendent Kathleen Spring said at the time. “The district's intent is to have a system in place that cannot discriminate.”