Black students' suspension rates will be studied

September 08, 1994|By Lan Nguyen | Lan Nguyen,Sun Staff Writer

After years of dismal suspension rates for Howard County's black students, school officials will conduct a formal study of why black students are disciplined more often than white students.

The analysis is prompted by the school system's annual suspension report, to be presented at today's school board meeting, which found that black students and males in general continue to be disproportionately suspended from schools.

"We need to ask some very pointed questions about that," said Associate Superintendent James McGowan. "The schools have tried a variety of different things, but they just haven't panned out."

At the high school level, 36 percent of students suspended last school year were black, up from 33 percent in the 1992-1993 school year. Blacks make up 16.6 percent of the high school population.

At the middle school level, 40 percent of the students who were suspended were black, up from 27 percent in the 1992-1993 school year. Of the middle school students last year, 15.1 percent were black.

The only decrease came at the elementary school level, where 53 percent of students who were suspended were black, down from 62 percent in the previous school year. The elementary school population was 14.1 percent black last school year.

Of the 34,500 students enrolled in county schools last year, roughly 77 percent were white, 15 percent were black and 7 percent were Asian. A little more than 1 percent were Hispanic.

Dr. McGowan said the school system will look at situations leading to suspensions, consider different teaching methods and determine whether staff members are treating black students differently from other students, given the same set of circumstances.

There still will be situations in which school administrators must suspend students, he said.

"When we take action, if it's for misbehavior that warrants a suspension, we're just going to have to suspend the kid," Dr. McGowan said. "There's no way around that. We can't accept poor behavior."

Bobbie Crews, head of the parent advisory council of the Black Student Achievement Program, said the disproportionate suspension of black students worries her but that she is happy that school officials will study the issue.

"That's great," she said. "Anything they can do to help the situation is a big plus for the school system. We all want to come to the same solution, to make it best for all of our students in a positive way."

She also advocated more in-school suspension programs so that students won't fall behind on their school work while they are being disciplined. "If you've got a five-day suspension, you come back and you're five days behind," she said.

According to this year's report, 73 percent of suspended high school students, 79 percent of suspended middle school students and 92 percent of suspended elementary school students were males.

The study also found that the overall proportion of students being suspended remained constant or decreased.

Last school year, 7.4 percent of high school students were suspended, the same as in the previous year. At the middle school level, 4.8 percent of students were suspended, the same as the year before. At the elementary school level, fewer than 1 percent of students were suspended, slightly fewer than in previous year.

Administrators took a variety of actions before they suspended a student, the report found. Those included meeting with parents, giving after-school detention, adjusting a student's schedule and having students undergo peer mediation, in which students try to work out their own problems.

In other business at today's board meeting, Associate Superintendent Maurice Kalin will deliver a report on why some students do well in school while others do not.

"Academic excellence is dependent on a student's value, commitment and expectation, rather than race or income," he said.

High school students who answered a questionnaire last spring said their families were the backbone for support and encouragement in school.

The report also found that students who earned high grades were far more likely to have turned in their homework on time. And the parents of high-achieving students were more likely to know how well their children were doing in school.

The report also found that students who did well were more proud of their schoolwork, and were more likely to think they would get college degrees and to think that grades were important.

"The findings confirm in my own mind what I have viewed over the years -- that students who work hard and persevere at acquiring knowledge" are the ones who succeed, Dr. Kalin said. "It also confirms the important role that parents play in the teaching and learning process, which is to set, communicate and see to it that high expectations are met."

The report also found that low-achieving students perceived themselves as getting less attention and help from teachers than their high-achieving peers did.

In other business, the board will:

* Decide whether to name the county's next school Landing Hill Middle School. The school, under construction near Rockburn Elementary School, is scheduled to open next fall.

* Hear a report on the year-round education planning committee, which begins work this month to design a plan for Howard County.

More than 100 people, including a core committee of more than 30 parents, students, teachers and other community representatives, will work for nine months to develop a year-round schooling plan. School officials expect to present a report to the school board in February.

The board meeting will take place at 4 p.m. today in the Board Room at the Department of Education, 10910 Route 108 in Ellicott City.

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