Archive for Monday, November 27, 2017

Racial disparity in suspensions still plagues Lawrence school district

Lawrence Public Schools (Shutterstock photo)

Lawrence Public Schools (Shutterstock photo)

November 27, 2017


A report shared earlier this month with the Lawrence school board shows that students of color continue to be disciplined with out-of-school suspensions at higher rate than their white peers.

The report presented by Terry McEwen, district director of assessment, research and accountability, found that the number of students given out-of-school suspensions decreased by more than 20 percent, from 377 in the 2015-2016 school year to 297 in the 2016-2017 school year.

But that good news was tempered by statistics showing the district is failing to make progress in addressing the higher proportional rate of out-of-school suspensions given to students of color. McEwen characterized the suspension trend data as “steady.”

Lawrence school district enrollment percentages by race

White: 67 percent

Black: 7 percent

Multiracial: 9 percent

Hispanic: 9 percent

Native American: 4 percent

Asian: 4 percent

The report tracked the total number of students suspended in the 2014, 2015, 2016 and 2017 academic years, then provided the percentage of students in different racial subgroups suspended each of those years.

According to the report, white students made up 67 percent of the student enrollment during the four-year study but never received more than 62.7 percent (2015) of the total out-of-school suspensions and accounted for just 53.2 percent of students disciplined in that manner in 2017.

Percent of Lawrence school district students receiving out-of-school suspensions by race

White — 2014, 59.5 percent; 2015, 62.4 percent; 2016, 44 percent; 2017, 53.2 percent

Black — 2014, 12.7 percent; 2015, 14.3 percent; 2016, 13.4 percent; 2017, 13.8 percent

Multiracial — 2014, 12.3 percent; 2015, 9.4 percent; 2016, 6.6 percent; 2017, 15.8 percent

Hispanic — 2014, 6.4 percent; 2015, 8.6 percent; 2016, 6.2 percent; 2017, 10.4 percent

Native American — 2014, 8.2 percent; 2015; 4.1 percent; 2016, 7.3 percent; 2017, 3.7 percent

Asian — 2014, 0.9 percent; 2015, 1.1 percent; 2016, 0.8 percent; 2017, 2.7 percent

The report also showed that every year from 2014 to 2017, the percentage of black and multiracial students receiving out-of-school suspensions was greater than the percentage of their enrollments. For example, black students, who made up 7 percent of the enrollment during the period, accounted for 12.7 percent of out-of-school suspensions in 2014, 14.3 percent in 2015, 18.3 percent in 2016 and 13.8 percent in 2017.

Dave Cunningham, district legal counsel and executive director of human resources, said the district’s policy on suspensions was basically a rewrite of state statutes. State statutes give school boards and their certified employees the right to suspend or expel students for such things as committing crimes on school property, possessing a weapon at school or at a school activity, endangering others, violating rules approved by a school board, or disobeying a teacher, school administrator or law officer.

The building-level handbooks do invite some variance in district suspension policy, Cunningham said.

“The area that gets a little gray is where it says a violation of any policy or handbook provision,” he said. “Each building has a handbook, and our secondary schools have codes of conduct they expect kids to follow. If you don’t follow those, it could create a basis for suspension or expulsion.”

District administration and the board are trying to minimize building variances. In remarks to the school board Nov. 13, interim superintendent Anna Stubblefield said data on suspensions gathered by the district now would be shared throughout the year with principals instead of at the end of the school year. That would allow building administrative teams to recognize trends and make changes, she said.

School board president Shannon Kimball said she and fellow board member Vanessa Sanburn reviewed building handbooks six years ago so they could be updated to align with district policies. It's time for another such review, which should be done before the board approves the handbooks in July, she said.

One newly elected board member thinks it's time for stronger action. Kelly Jones, who was elected to the Lawrence school board earlier this month, said she would bring to the board the concerns she expressed about the suspension inequity issue during her campaign.

“I think we have to look very closely to determine if we are not at a place of needing a uniform policy on how suspensions are exercised at each school,” she said. “In the case of out-of-school suspensions, practices may be potentially biased against those with mental health issues and students of color. If there’s bias, that’s a civil rights issue, and we have to look at how to reduce them.”

Suspensions are viewed negatively, but Kevin Harrell, the district's executive director of student support and special education, said they can have positive outcomes.

“Sometimes, it’s a one-time thing — a kid does something and learns,” he said.


The district, nonetheless, has the goal of reducing the number of suspensions because it recognizes that they are often counterproductive, Harrell said.

“There’s often no supervision,” he said. “Sometimes it reinforces doing things to get out of school, so the goal is to look at the consequences that don’t require out-of-school suspensions.”

A step down to an in-school suspension is such an alternative, which could be for an hour, half day or full day depending on the building and the issue, Harrell said. Time out of the classroom does not relieve students of the responsibility to keep up with their studies, he said. In-school suspensions in the district’s secondary schools are served in a disciplinary room with a certified teacher.

“They might be on suspension, but they would actually be working on their curriculum,” he said. “They would have access to their school work as before, but they are not in the room with the other students. The goal is to always have the student engaged in the learning process and the curriculum and completing an assignment. You don’t want them completing that in-school suspension and then go back to class missing a day or so of classwork and be behind because of it.”

The district makes available opportunities for those serving out-of-school suspensions to keep up with their studies, too, Harrell said. In general, suspended middle school students may take their iPads home, and those suspended from Lawrence or Free State high schools may take their MacBooks, although that might not be the case if a student is suspended for violating the district’s technology policy.

Suspended and expelled students can also take advantage of a suspension alternative program, Harrell said. This program, for longer suspensions, can help keep students from falling too far behind.

“Our goal is to help students toward graduation,” he said. “If a student is suspended three days or more, we do have a location they can go to, get instruction and homework from their teachers and have a certified teacher instruct them. So, we’ve had students who may have been expelled or on long-term suspension, but they still graduated because they could go there and still have access to the curriculum.”


Deborah Snyder 2 months, 3 weeks ago

While I commend the new board members for their suggestions on improvement in alternatives to full school suspension, I would appreciate some focus on the teachers' probable inate bias in their expectations of all student misbehavior.

It is unfair to expect all students to adher to rules for expulsion, when students of color are subjected to racial slurs, putdowns and harassment INSIDE the school they attend.

BTW, Mr. Elvyn Jones... What is the racial make-up of USD497 Instructors? Most importantly, what is the racial breakdown of USD497 Administrators? Aren't these individuals, as vulnerable to "group-think" on what behaviors are acceptable, excusable and warrant investigation before coming to the stigmatizing conclusion that 'only expulsion' can work with this or that student?

Did you consider following three expelled students' matriculation through this district to find out how expulsion

Brock Masters 2 months, 3 weeks ago

No, it is very fair to expect all students to follow the rules and it is very fair to discipline students who harass other students.

The solution is simple. If not already in place, review proposed expulsions and any other disciplinary actions to ensure the rules are followed - if suspension is warranted then do it, if proposed discipline is too lax override it.

Why is it so hard to believe that the suspensions are warranted and not a result of bias? Racial disparity is not always a sign of racism or bias - look at NFL and NBA for proof.

Just look at the race of those committing murders in Lawrence - race doesn’t match racial makeup of city does it. Did bias cause it?

David Reber 2 months, 3 weeks ago

You're oversimplifying the issue, Brock. Maybe the suspensions are warranted....maybe not. But even if they are, there may be other systemic issues leading to one group engaging in a greater number of suspension-worthy offenses than others. Those issues may well be fixable. In any case, nobody knows unless somebody studies the issue.

Brock Masters 2 months, 3 weeks ago

David, let’s start where we agree. Yes, absolutely let’s get to the root cause and let’s try to resolve it. We want students to stay in school and learn. Let’s also revisit suspensions. Is there a better alternative - I believe there is.

Now to my other point with which you may or may not agree. Let’s dump this premise that the suspensions are the result of racism or racial bias. Having a preconceived cause of a problem biases any study and to blame it on racism pits blacks against whites. There is a high number of whites being suspended. Over half of the 67% of the student body is a lot of suspensions.

Why not just study why students are being suspended and work to reduce the number without making it a race issue?

David Reber 2 months, 3 weeks ago

You misread the data, Brock. There aren't over half of the white students being suspended. Rather, white students make up ~ half the suspensions, even though they account for 67% of the population. Meanwhile, Black students, who account for only 7% of the student population, make up almost 13% of the suspensions. Why make it a racial question? Because it IS a racial question. This isn't rocket science.

Brock Masters 2 months, 3 weeks ago

No I didn’t misread the data. I said half of 67% of student body which is correct. How do you know it is a racial issue, and putting it in caps doesn’t make it so - just ask CNN.

Deborah Snyder 2 months, 3 weeks ago

...affected their subsequent treatment by other teachers in classroom discipline? Did such expulsion help them in keeping up with grade expectations?

This persistence in our school district's racial bias in expulsions deserves a more indepth , and likeky uncomfortable investigation, than the piecemeal

Deborah Snyder 2 months, 3 weeks ago

...and sporadic articles on the racial issues dogging our children in school. Sorry for the pop-offs on typing, but hopefully still worth thought.

Pius Waldman 2 months, 3 weeks ago

If rules that are not followed by students are removed from the classroom to create an environment best for learning that should not be based on race. No matter what happens the classroom needs to be capable of having students follow the rules.

Dorothy Hoyt-Reed 2 months, 3 weeks ago

That's not what anyone is suggesting. Like Ms. Snyder said there needs to be a study done.

Bob Summers 2 months, 3 weeks ago

What if some cultures create more reasons to be suspended than others?

Why do those cultures that do not create reasons be punished?

Kevin Elliott 2 months, 3 weeks ago

I have yet to hear a reasonable opinion based on facts and without prejudice from you. This is a much less subtle pro racist comment than you usually make, however. I call your opinion devoid of facts and reason and purely based on privilege and bigotry. There have been not years but decades of research that show explicitly and without question that if you are a not white, you are more likely to be punished, and punished more severely than your white counterpart for the exact same crime. It has been shown in employment, criminal justice, credit, housing and many other arenas of life. You are flat out saying people who are Black or Hispanic or whichever status that is not you should be judged by your perception of their culture instead of evenly as everyone else. That is racist. I find your right to be racist in this instance allowed under freedom of speech, and under that same freedom, I find you to be a pure negative impact on civilization.

Bigotry is an act of violence and a mental illness and should be reacted to as such. With that in mind, I urge you to seek therapy and try to heal your illness.

Bob Summers 2 months, 3 weeks ago

Your limited critical thinking exemplified by relying on Liberal code words and phrases, coupled with your cultural appropriation of those not initiating reasons to be suspended is profoundly enlightening.

Ken Lassman 2 months, 3 weeks ago

Your limited critical thinking exemplified by relying on the "Liberal" code word and phrases, coupled with your cultural appropriation of those not initiating reasons to be suspended is profoundly enlightening.

Deborah Snyder 2 months, 3 weeks ago

Mr. Masters, the causes behind racial bias in our justice system, housing, employment most definitely apply to education in our society... whether on a macro or micro level. You may recall a recent article on South Junior High students of color enduring both institutional and peer instances of oppression and blatent racism. In light of experiences published about LGBTQ students at Lawrence High, why wouldn't the LJW do a series on past, present and future treatment of students -- in context to their experience of academic punishment -- to open a community-wide dialogue?

Brock Masters 2 months, 3 weeks ago

What is the cause of racial bias in our justice system, housing, employment? And how is it that recent immigrants from Africa do very well here in America?

Look, I know it isn’t popular, but yes there is racial bias of course, but it is also a culture problem. Explain why a city like Baltimore governed by blacks, predominantly black and Democratic majority is crime and unemployment ridden? It is a culture issue and not a race or racism issue.

Here is a good essay that does a better job of explaining what I am trying to say.

Richard Aronoff 2 months, 3 weeks ago

The real question is would a white student not be suspended for doing the same thing that a minority student did?

As for students who might be the victims of various slurs or bullying, I recommend a book available at The major point of the book is you have no control over other people but you have absolute control over how you react to other people. I recommended it to a transgender friend in California and she loved it and found it very helpful.

The title of the book is: The Subtle Art of Not Giving a F***

Deborah Snyder 2 months, 3 weeks ago

I agree, Mr. Arnoff, but what of the elementary-age students who are unable to read this book? My question to Mr. Jones and the LJW Management is, "Are you willing to provide an indepth series of articles looking at racial bias in USD497 from different angles"??

Richard Aronoff 2 months, 3 weeks ago

Deborah: the book was not written by Stephen Hawking. That being said, even a young child should be able to understand the idea that they have control over how they react to what another person says or does. And a reasonable intelligent adult should be able to explain that concept to them.

Deborah Snyder 2 months, 3 weeks ago

Mr. Elliott summarized the basis for such an expose very well. And it always seems to surprise people that such behavior creeps into everyday use in our most cherished institutions... one of which is public or private education.

If there is anyone better positioned to examine multiple angles in these sporadic reports, it would be our local media!

Clara Westphal 2 months, 3 weeks ago

Students who disrupt a classroom should not be allowed to remain. That person is keeping other students from their education. For many of these disruptive students, the problem starts in the home.

My son taught history in Boston, MA and many of his students were of a disruptive nature. He was very good at relating to these students and when they did get into trouble and sent to the office, they often asked to talked to him because he would listen to him.This may not work for very many teachers.

He died in his classroom of a heart attack.Teaching, esp. at the secondary level is not easy..

Gary Stussie 2 months, 3 weeks ago

"... decades of research that show explicitly and without question that if you are a not white, you are more likely to be punished, and punished more severely than your white counterpart for the exact same crime."

How long have you folks lived in Lawrence? Do you really think faculty and staff of USD497 are racially biased in their suspension decisions? I suspect they anguish over all suspension decisions. As Mr. Masters points out "Racial disparity is not always a sign of racism or bias"

Deborah Snyder 2 months, 3 weeks ago

I'm pretty sure most posters here remember the bitter taste in everyone'mouths when district boundaries were being debated between the new high school and the original...

So much of that feuding had to do with racial disparity, because it was that blatant. How much of that racial resentment of being bussed in and bussed out was acted out in the classroom at Free State? Sure would be interesting to know how the remaining student body felt at LHS regarding its newly split racial makeup, and how teachers at both schools felt comparatively at the time... and today.

Carol Bowen 2 months, 3 weeks ago

I wonder if there is demographic data for each high school.

Pius Waldman 2 months, 3 weeks ago

Punishing more for certain students because of race is wrong. Just saying that happens might be questionable. But classrooms need to be able to be a learning environment and those that don't follow the rules need to be punished no matter what race they are. To bring up what happened long ago and not being practiced today isn't fair to present classrooms.

Brock Masters 2 months, 3 weeks ago

A serious question, if it is a racism problem then how are the over 86% of black students avoiding suspension. And, if it is a racism problem then why, in terms of numbers, are far more whites being suspended?

Also, if it is a skin color issue and not a culture issue, then why aren’t Asians being suspended at higher percentage than whites?

Look at the suspects in the recent murders. They were just recently in school. Do you really believe they were model students while in school?

The problem is making this into a racial issue that divides us instead of looking at the issue from a colorblind disciplinary problem that we all have a vested interest in solving.

David Reber 2 months, 3 weeks ago

"And, if it is a racism problem then why, in terms of numbers, are far more whites being suspended?"

Because white students account for the great majority of students, that's why. Raw numbers like that mean nothing; but they sure are useful for people trying to hide their true feelings, right Brock?

Brock Masters 2 months, 3 weeks ago

In 2015 the percentage of whites suspended closely to their population percentage. In 2017 they account for half of the suspensions so they are obviously being disciplined suggesting it is not racial. The low percentage of blacks as part of the total population can result in misleading stats as just a few suspensions can push the number up.

David, it is disappointing that you can’t disagree civilly. Why suggest I am hiding my true feelings when I’ve come out and said exactly what I think. Discipline problems and the resulting suspensions are not a race problem but a culture problem not limited to one race.

True there is a higher percentage of blacks being suspended but that is not proof of racism. I agree we should study the problem but Without a preconceived cause of it.

Yep, I thought you were a reasonable person who wouldn’t resort to troll-like tactics. Too bad, I enjoy intelligent opposing points of view.

Francis Hunt 2 months, 3 weeks ago

Let's look at the suspensions and compare apples to apples. What is the racial breakdown for each policy violation? For example what is the racial breakdown of suspensions for committing a crime on school property? What is the racial breakdown of suspensions for possessing a weapon at school or school activity? What is the racial breakdown of suspensions for endangering others? Don't just look at the grand total and say it isn't fair. Compare disciplinary action by race for each policy violation.

Jay Pine 2 months, 3 weeks ago

I feel like there's some key peices of missing data. For example, what was the incident that caused the out-of-school suspension? Was it one time or many times? How many "warnings" were given prior to the decision to suspend? If you solely look at the figures provided, it might look like there's a racial disparity. However, when you add in what happened and/or how many times they were "warned", it might become less racially motivated. Are those numbers kept/tracked?

Calvin Anders 2 months, 3 weeks ago

Yes, agreed. We are missing key information. It does seem reasonable that there may be some racial bias, but rolling up the numbers to include suspensions that involved discretion and those that generally do not, make it difficult to draw conclusions.

Nathan Anderson 2 months, 3 weeks ago

I don't see the point of viewing this solely through a racial lense. I suspect that racial disparities are relatively small compared to gender yet I can't recall reading anything about gender disparities in suspensions plaguing the district.

Bob Smith 2 months, 3 weeks ago

Gender disparities don't make for click-bait headlines.

Carol Bowen 2 months, 2 weeks ago

To dwell on this grouped data would be racist. Yes, it was important to view this data, but what is the problem we are trying to solve? Is it a problem of racist application of discipline, or is it the problematic symptoms of suspending students? I suggest that we should address the student population that has a record of suspensions. That would include comparing incidents of discipline, but study in more depth, why students are being suspended. These students should not be disruptive in the classroom. What is the cause?

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