Black students reportedly suspended at higher rate School board calls trend 'alarming'

September 09, 1993|By Lan Nguyen | Lan Nguyen,Staff Writer

Howard County black students are being suspended in disproportionately high numbers, despite a two-year effort by the administration to reduce the suspension rate among blacks.

This trend among black students occurs as the total number of suspended students is declining throughout the 33,000-student system, according to a Board of Education study to be presented at today's school board meeting.

Bobbi Crews, head of the Black Student Achievement Program's Parent Advisory Council, blames the high black suspension rate on a clash of cultures between teachers and black students.

"It's always going to be a problem," she said. "The teachers need to have more training communicating effectively with African-American students."

According to the school board report, a majority of the elementary school students suspended in the 1992-1993 school year were black, though black students make up only 14 percent of the elementary school population.

And while suspensions countywide dropped last school year, the rate for black elementary school students increased significantly, what the report termed an "alarming trend."

Black students also were reported suspended at a disproportionate rate in the middle and high schools.

County school officials have long been concerned about the high suspension rate for black students, who make up 15 percent of the overall school population.

"It's been that way for some time," said Daniel Jett, director of high schools. "We're not sure why."

James McGowan, associate superintendent, cited a number of school system initiatives intended to address the problem.

They include an emphasis on human relations and peer mediation programs and an effort at the elementary school level to link guidance counselors, teachers and health professionals with individual students.

Ms. Crews, the mother of a student at Hammond High School, also is optimistic, but said the change "is not coming overnight."

Among the other findings in the suspension report:

* At the high school level, the number of suspensions decreased by 30 to 766 in 1992, with some students logging multiple suspensions. However, the total number of students suspended increased to 631, up 55 students in 1992.

* Middle school suspensions were up last year, reflecting an increase in suspensions for drug use.

* Throughout the county, fighting and general behavior problems were the most common reasons for students to be suspended.

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