Calling it the “elephant in the room,” at least one advisor to the N.C. State Board of Education demanded answers Thursday morning about the state’s continually high rate of suspensions for black students in the 2014-2015 academic year.
The call came amidst a report from state staff on suspensions and expulsions that showed black students were significantly more likely to receive short-term and long-term suspensions than their peers, a stable trend in North Carolina public schools over the years. (Note: The suspension data begins on page 23 of the report.)
James Ford, the state’s Teacher of the Year and an advisor to the state board, asked for an explanation for the “racialized gaps” in the data, but didn’t leave with many answers.
More than 118,000 black students received short-term suspensions last year, the report said, a rate of about 3 suspensions per every 10 black students.
By comparison, 54,812 white students received short-term suspensions, a rate of about .71. The second-highest rate belonged to American Indian students, who received about 2.52 suspensions per 10 students.
The data captured a similar trend in long-term suspensions. Black students, by far, received a higher number in 2014-2015, coming in with 601 reported long-term suspensions. That’s a rate of about 153 long-term suspensions per 100,000 black students.
The rate for white students was about 37 per 100,000 students. American Indian students had the next highest rate, about 88 long-term suspensions per 100,000 students.
The racial gaps in suspension data have been a concern in North Carolina for some time. After reading the report Wednesday, N.C. Rep. Ed Hanes Jr., the Democrat from Forsyth County who serves as vice chair of the House Education Committee, blasted school leaders over the numbers, calling them “crazy high rates” for black students.
Hanes said such numbers could explain why some black parents are looking for alternatives to public schools through charters and private school vouchers. Hanes was one of a number of Democrats who backed the state’s controversial voucher program—the Opportunity Scholarship program—in 2013.
In an email to Policy Watch, Hanes said of the report, which also captured the first increase in the state’s dropout rate in eight years:
“We are inoculated against the suffering of Black people and especially their children. Black lives don’t matter. Black voices don’t matter unless they speak against white voices who demand status quo. If you happen to be poor and white, well, you don’t matter much either because you allowed yourself to get caught in places where black people congregate. The truth is the general assembly really doesn’t care a whole lot about poor people and never has.”
State staff, meanwhile, declined to say why the numbers continue to show a disproportionate number of suspensions for black students, although N.C. Superintendent of Public Instruction June Atkinson suggested cultural differences could be responsible.
“What may be disrespectful in one culture may not be disrespectful in another,” said Atkinson, adding that increased professional development training for school staff could be one salve.
Board members said Thursday that they would prepare a list of their concerns from the data.