There was a 29% reduction in out-of-school suspensions between the 2012-13 and 2013-14 school years, the continuation of a five-year downward trend.
There were 11,205 suspensions in 2013-14, compared to 15,723 the previous year. That’s a 29 percent drop, and a 45% reduction since the 2009-10 school year, when there were 20,244 suspensions. It’s important to note that the actual number of suspensions has gone down – not just the percentage – even as the student population has continued to grow steadily.
Short-term suspensions dropped from 15,378 in 2012-13 to 10,938 in 2013-14, a 29% reduction. That’s down 44% from the 19,396 short-term suspensions in 2009-10.
There was also a marked decrease in long-term suspensions, 267 last year compared to 345 the year before. That marked a 23% reduction year to year, and a 69% reduction from the 848 long-term suspensions in 2009-10.
Big picture: 95.5% of the district’s 150,000+ students were NOT suspended last year.
WCPSS figures compare favorably with other North Carolina school districts. Wake County had a suspension rate of 16.18 suspensions per 100 students, compared to a 39.95 per 100 rate in Charlotte-Mecklenburg, 20.66 in Guilford and 30.76 in Cumberland.
District and school leaders have engaged a number of strategies to reduce suspensions, aimed at both preventing misbehavior and intervening more effectively.
On the prevention front, for example, more than 100 schools use the Positive Behavioral Intervention & Supports (PBIS) framework. This is a school-wide effort to demonstrate to students what good behavior does and doesn’t look like. It rewards students who perform well.
On the intervention front, schools in the district also have been making more and better use of Alternative Learning Centers (ALCs), designed for students who temporarily need to work outside the regular classroom, either because of behavior problems or because they are behind academically. ALC teachers have received more training on helping students stay on track academically while also addressing behavioral issues.
WCPSS revised its student code of conduct five years ago to encourage school leaders to avoid using out-of-school suspension for minor, non-violent infractions.
“We understand that if kids aren’t in school, they’re not learning,” says Brenda Elliott, assistant superintendent for student support services.
“However, if their behavior is disruptive to the school environment, then we have to address it. And our goal is to address the behavior in a way that is instructive and limits the chance that the student will fall behind academically.”
Going forward, district officials want to work closely with parents, community leaders including police and student leadership to continue to improve prevention and intervention.
District and school leaders will look to address the disproportionate numbers of African-American students who are suspended. They make up 25% of the total student body but 62% of students suspended.
WCPSS has enacted a district action plan that includes community and family outreach and guidelines to support equitable discipline practices.
“Our top priority this year will be examining our data to better understand why we have disparities between subgroups and implementing strategies to address those disparities,” Elliott says.
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