New report shows students of color continue to receive most of state’s school suspensions

Black students who attend public schools in North Carolina are 4.1 times more likely than their white counterparts to be hit with short-term suspensions.

That’s one finding in the most recent Racial Equity Report Cards released Wednesday by the Southern Coalition for Social Justice (SCSJ).

Black students make up 25% of children enrolled in the state’s public schools, but receive 55.2% of short-term suspensions. White students are 47.3% of students enrolled in North Carolina’s public schools but receive only 25.8% of short-term suspensions.

“Many factors contribute to the racial disparities we see in schools across the state, including the implicit racial bias of decision makers, structural racism and, in some cases, explicit discrimination against students of color,” said Meredith Horton, the SCSJ deputy executive director.

The SCSJ used 2018-19 suspension data from the state’s 115 school districts to compile its report, which provides a “snapshot” of the so-called school-to prison-pipeline in each district.

The pipeline is described as the system of policies and practices that push students out of school and into the juvenile and adult criminal justice system,

“The pipeline has three key entry point; academic failure, school discipline and court involvement,” SCJS researchers wrote. “Students of color are over-represented at each entry point to the pipeline in almost every school district in North Carolina, and once students enter the pipeline it can be difficult for them to re-engage and be successful at school.”

Last year, the SCSJ found that Black students were 4.3 times more likely than white students to be suspended from school.

The racial inequity found in the suspension data is troubling when you consider the dire consequences facing students who have been suspended. They often struggle academically and their chances of future involvement with the criminal justice system increases, studies show.

Horton said there are several steps school boards and communities can do to shut down the school-to-prison pipeline.

“Investing in smaller class sizes, as well as professionals such as social workers and counselors, eliminating policies that criminalize schoolyard behavior and getting community and parent input on discipline procedures can all make a significant and lasting change,” Horton said.

The RERCs also show that while 52.7% of students in the state are children of color, only 21.3% of teachers and administrators are of color.

SCSC and other research organizations believe a more diverse teacher corps will improve academic outcomes and increase opportunities students of color.

Researchers at Johns Hopkins, for example, found that Black students with just one Black teacher in elementary school are more likely to graduate high school and enroll in college.

Other key findings in the SCSJ’s report include:

  • White students were 2.1 times more likely to score as “college to career ready” on end-of-grade tests between third and eighth grades than Black students and 1.7 times more likely than Hispanic students.
  • The academic gap grows slightly in high school with White students 2.3 times more likely to score “college to career ready” on high school end-of-course tests than Black students and 1.8 times more likely than Hispanic students.
  • Hispanic and Native American students are the least likely to graduate from high school in four years, with statewide graduation rates of 81.1% and 81.2% respectively. In comparison, 89.6% of White students graduate in 4 years.
  • Statewide, 45.1% of all juvenile referrals to the criminal justice system came from schools; Black students were the most likely to be referred to the justice system, with 47.6% of all incidents being referred to the criminal justice system compared to 36.5% among White students.

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