According to a Vanderbilt study commissioned by the Clark County School District, black students at CCSD are three times more likely to be expelled than their nonblack peers. Assistant Superintendent Andre Denson says he’s “shocked, but not surprised” to learn of high suspension rates among minorities, because the disparity is a trend in cities nationwide.
“The disappointing part is that we don’t want children out of school,” says Denson.
Last year, the Civil Rights Project at UCLA published a similar study that compared out-of-school suspension rates across the country. UCLA’s Daniel Losen says the study found that Nevada is a “high suspension state” and that black students are much more likely than nonblack students to be suspended.
“In Nevada, Clark County was the highest suspending district with one of the largest racial gaps -- in fact, above the national average,” says Losen.
Students who are suspended lose classroom instruction time, and that’s not all. According to Losen, there is a correlation between expulsion rates and drop-out rates.
“A recent study tracking Florida 9th graders for over nine years found that even being suspended one time in that period doubled the likelihood that the student would drop out of school,” says Losen. “So if we want to keep kids in school we’ve got to find other ways to address their issues of behavior.”
So are CCSD teachers too quick to suspend students, or just doing what they have to do to keep classrooms civil?
“If the school suspended them, I’m going to say yes, it was probably legitimate and within the right of the principals to suspend the student,” says Denson. “But I’m going to tell you as a former teacher and principal that we have to look at alternative ways of disciplining students.”
Losen says the problem at Clark County Schools is two-fold.
“To suspend high numbers of students for minor offenses, which appears to be the case in Clark County, you already have a problem for all kids,” says Losen. “If it’s happening more to one racial group than the another, then it adds concern about a possible racial bias.”
Losen notes that the racial bias is often unconscious.
“Bias can affect our perception. So as a white male teacher I may see two kids roughhousing in the hallway. If they’re white kids, I know their parents and feel part of their community, I might be more inclined to call their parents or approach the kids,” says Losen. “But if I see black kids who I don’t know who I don’t feel comfortable with, maybe because of bias, I have fears that might inform my decisions. I might call my school resource officer, or think that there’s an assault going on.”
Denson says a CCSD council spent six months addressing the concerns raised in the Vanderbilt study, and that four of their ten recommendations deal with addressing bias and cultural competency.
“In other words, having staff trained on understanding who they are, understanding different cultures, understanding different students. Because we believe that a lot of it has to do with what people are perceiving going in the door.”