Suspensions and other disciplinary actions for African-American students fell at Anne Arundel County schools last year because of new practices, said a school system team examining purported racial disparities in punishments.
The audit, design and planning team was created by schools Superintendent Kevin Maxwell as part of efforts to address concerns about school discipline, particularly among African-American students, who school officials say make up 22 percent of the school district's enrollment but account for a higher percentage of suspensions. The findings were presented Wednesday to the school board.
Suspensions and disciplinary referrals for infractions such as insubordination fell for black students last school year. But the percentage reduction among African-American students in every category was less than the decreases among white, Hispanic and mixed-race students.
"I'm encouraged, but the big frustration is that, even as the numbers drop, disproportion remains," said Maxwell. "The question is how do you get both the numbers to drop and proportionality?"
In 2004, the county's branch of the National Association for the Advancement of Colored People joined a consortium of community organizations voicing such concerns; their efforts led to a 2005 memorandum of agreement mediated by the U.S. Department of Justice and signed by the NAACP and county school officials.
Last year, the NAACP filed a formal complaint that accused the school system of subjecting African-American students to different treatment than other students regarding discipline referrals and suspensions. In March, the U.S. Department of Education's Office of Civil Rights said it would investigate the NAACP's accusations that significant reductions had not been made since the memorandum agreement was established.
The auditing team said that during the 2011-2012 year, each principal was asked to review discipline data and work with their staffs to address disproportion numbers of suspensions among any "over-represented" group.
Audit team member Carlesa Finney, director of the school system's office of equity assurance and human relations, said that the team found numbers were high among some student groups because a small number within each group would receive multiple referrals. She said that the audit team suggested approaches such as interventions with the student, assisting teachers with classroom management, and engaging the classroom in instruction.
"Teachers' responses in classrooms are so inconsistent and different that for some kids, they respond to them differently for some of the same behaviors," said Finney, who presented the findings with Arlen Liverman, Anne Arundel deputy superintendent of schools.
Finney said that the approaches led to decreases: Disrespect, disruption or insubordination referrals for African-American students in Anne Arundel middle and high schools fell 27 percent overall last year from the previous year. Among African-American middle-school students, the numbers fell 23 percent last year from the previous year; at high school, there was a reduction of 32 percent.
Referrals for out-of-school suspensions for African-Americans overall fell 37 percent, officials said. Among middle-school students, suspensions resulting from disrespect, disruption and insubordination dropped 50 percent; for high schools it dropped 29 percent.
The presentation prompted lengthy discussion among the members of the school board. Member Deborah T. Ritchie said that any discussion should include more parental involvement.
"We have some very tried-and-true and dedicated community leaders who are major parts of our school system. They get it. We need to reach past them," Ritchie said. "For students who have higher referrals, why don't we reach out to their parents and their caregivers and whoever is responsible to them as adults?"
The findings were among several topics raised in Wednesday's meeting. Among them:
•Board President Andrew Pruski requested that the board form a committee to find a new site in Anne Arundel County for graduations.
•The school board approved a three-year deal with CVS Caremark for drug prescriptions for school system employees that school officials said would save the system $10.8 million, including $3.3 million in 2013. Those covered by the plan include 9,000 school system employees and 5,000 retirees, school officials said.
Schools Chief Operating Officer Alex Szachnowicz said the deal with CVS Caremark should offset the 7 percent to 8 percent increase in national health care costs anticipated by the federal government and health care consultants.
"Therefore, the out-of-pocket expense to the employee and the company are going to be flatlined next year versus this year," Szachnowicz said.
•The board voted to allow the Baltimore-based Children's Guild to seek alternative sites for its new Monarch Global Academy Public Contract School, which is scheduled to open in fall 2013.
The proposed K-8 school is expected to be built by Severna Park-based Polm Cos. at Brock Bridge Road in Laurel to ease crowding at Maryland City, Brock Bridge and Jessup elementary schools. But the company is struggling to secure funding for the project, school officials said, and might not be able to build the school before the start of next school year.
Wednesday's vote gives the Children's Guild officials three options: erect a temporary building; lease an existing building until Polm can build the school at the Brock Bridge Road site; or construct a new facility at another site. Szachnowicz said the third option is the least desirable.
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