Data from the U.S. Department of Education’s Office of Civil Rights show that students with disabilities and minority students are disciplined more often and more harshly than their peers. Schools vary widely in both the numbers of suspensions and expulsions and in student demographics, but researcher Douglas Ganon of the Carsey Institute for Public Policy says that the overall trends are “overwhelmingly clear.”
At Concord High, for example, African American students made up just 8 percent of the total student population but represented 14 percent of in-school suspensions, 22 percent of out-of-school suspensions and 23 percent of all school-related arrests.
Numbers were similarly off balance at Rundlett Middle School. There, black students made up 7 percent of the total student population but 50 percent of in-school suspensions, 30 percent of out-of-school suspensions and 29 percent of school-related arrests…
Concord High Principal Tom Sica noted the raw numbers for his school were fairly low. The school reported 48 in-school suspensions, 27 out-of-school suspensions and 17 school-related arrests.
By comparison, Nashua High School North, which has virtually the same number of students – 1,751 – reported 277 in-school suspensions and 290 out-of-school suspensions. Meanwhile, Central High School in Manchester reported 353 out-of-school suspensions, more than 10 times the number in Concord.
Still, Sica said any disparities that fell along racial, special-education or socio-economic lines, whether academic or disciplinary, were “always part of our reflection…”
Douglas Gagnon, a researcher, authored several studies on school discipline for the Carsey School of Public Policy at the University of New Hampshire. He said any one data point can be debated, but the overall patterns – across schools, districts and states – were overwhelmingly clear.
“It is true that anytime you have any numbers that low that literally a single incident could lead to disproportionalities. So there is some truth that. But when you aggregate everything up, things play out in a rather predictable way,” he said.
But while administrators generally pushed back on the data, all also noted that their schools were making efforts to understand why students were misbehaving, and offering appropriate supports, instead of simply meting out punishments and walking away.
Those efforts include restorative justice and Positive Behavioral Interventions and Support (PBIS), which reduce the numbers of suspensions and expulsions while emphasizing student responsibility for their actions.
Schools like Pittsfield Middle High School and John Stark Regional High School in Weare have switched to restorative justice models and have experienced a reduction in suspensions.
Somersworth High School incorporates PBIS, a series of strategies that emphasizes the behavioral supports and social culture and needed for all students in a school to achieve social, emotional and academic success. Check out this video from Dan Habib and the UNH Institute on Disability (note: includes adult language):
Read more about restorative justice, improving school culture, and more:
- Restorative justice leads to greater respect between students & teachers
- Creating a positive classroom environment for students living with adversity
- New docu-series, “America to Me,” explores race and education
- Listen to New Hampshire students talk about restorative justice and other school discipline issues in their schools at the Student Voice Summit 2018 with our web story
- More on school culture, equity, and issues that impact learning