Local News

Parents and educators discuss Durham school suspension rates

Posted December 7, 2013 5:56 p.m. EST
Updated December 10, 2013 8:37 a.m. EST

— Parents and educators came together in Durham Saturday to discuss solutions to reduce school suspension rates. 

The Office of Civil Rights is investigating the district after complaints that the district suspends black students and students with disabilities more than others. 

The Advocates for Children's Services, a project of Legal Aid of North Carolina, and the Center for Civil Rights Remedies at the Civil Rights Project of UCLA, alleges that the Durham County school district suspends black students at more than four times the rate of white students – often for minor, non-violent behavior, such as unexcused absences, dress code violations and cursing.

Board of Education chair, Heidi Carter, said the district's rates are in line with state and national suspension rates and that the board previously revised its discipline policy to use out of school suspension as a last resort. 

"Research shows children that have experienced out of school suspensions also have high rates of school failure," Carter said. "Of course we want to keep that from happening." 

Students who receive out of school suspension are offered a seat at the district's alternative school so they can continue to learn, Carter said. 

Concerned parent, Thomas Poole, said he would like to see leaders in the African American community take an active role in the issue. He added that lack of discipline and family structure at home can contribute to students' behavior problems. 

"The school system in Durham has the second chance academy, short term suspension and a parent academy doing all they can do," Poole said. "It seems to me this was more an indictment on the African American community that has failed in it's dignity to teach family structure."

Citing data from the 2009-10 school year, 2,425 black students, or 14.1 percent of all black students enrolled in Durham schools, were suspended at least once. In contrast, the groups say, 3.3 percent of white students were suspended.

The school system also suspended 17 percent of all students with disabilities, compared with 8.4 percent of students without disabilities.

"We want to reduce out of school suspension while at the same time holding the children accountable for their behavior," Carter said. "We need to provide the support so families and students understand what ready to learn behavior is."

The Durham County school district has three more forums planned. The next meeting is scheduled for 6:30 p.m. on Dec. 9 at Northern High School at 117 Tom Wilkinson Road.

There will also be a meetings held at 6:30 p.m. on Dec. 10 at the Southern School of Energy and Sustainability at 800 Clayton Road and at 6:30 p.m. on Dec. 16 at the White Rock Baptist Church at 3400 Fayetteville Street. 

Childcare will be provided for children ages 4-12.