School suspensions questioned Large number of blacks seem targeted, leader says

March 15, 1996|By James M. Coram | James M. Coram,SUN STAFF

The perception within the black community that African-American students are targeted for suspension "needs to put clearly on the table," a community leader told the Howard County school board yesterday.

A disproportionate number of black students appeared to be targets for suspension during the 1993-1994 school year, and "that makes for a negative reaction within the black community," said Natalie Woodson, educational chairwoman of the Howard County chapter of the National Association for the Advancement of Colored People.

Ms. Woodson expressed her views during a tightly structured 90-minute workshop yesterday afternoon. School board members were part of an 18-member panel addressing a 1994 report that analyzed student suspensions. The report concluded that subpar academic performance not race was the largest single factor leading to suspensions.

The workshop format did not allow debate or evaluation of issues raised, so Ms. Woodson's views were summarized by a facilitator and displayed for perusal as were everyone else's comments.

The board did take action last evening on an unrelated matter the end of the school year. It's now official Howard County's last day of school is Wednesday, June 19.

The school board could have chosen to make up the eight days lost because of snow by lengthening some or all the remaining school days, which is what the Carroll County school board did earlier this week.

But Howard's board voted unanimously without discussion or debate to accept Superintendent Michael E. Hickey's recommendation that school continue through June 19.

The vote was so swift that board Chairwoman Susan J. Cook made it a point to make sure the audience knew what had just happened.

"Everybody hear that," she said. "June 19 is the last day of school so far. Stay tuned."

Although there was no discussion of the ideas put forth at the earlier work session on suspensions, several themes emerged: deal with students' problems in middle school, build trust with their parents, articulate behavioral expectations clearly and be consistent when applying discipline.

Charles Walsh, a member of the board's Citizens Advisory Committee, said the school board should gather data about which schools and which teachers have the worst suspension problems and then target those schools and teachers with effective programs.

Dr. Hickey suggested that the board find out the "best practices" that keep students from being suspended and share that information countywide.

Darin Oduyoye, 18, a Centennial High School senior and president of the Howard County Association of Student Councils, suggested that the board find an alternative to suspensions because some students may see a suspension as a reward.

"Maybe they see this as a break from learning," he said. "Valuable information is presented every day. Learning needs to continue, education needs to continue through the suspension."

Pub Date: 3/15/96

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