Wake County Schools

Wake County schools discuss racial disparity in student suspension

Posted February 16, 2016 5:32 p.m. EST
Updated February 16, 2016 8:40 p.m. EST

— The Wake County school board was talking discipline Tuesday afternoon and on the agenda was a new report about student discipline, including suspensions.

There were more than 11,800 school suspensions in the 2014-2015 school year, which is an increase of 6 percent, although suspensions have been decreasing overall in the last five years. 17,918 students were punished with short- or long-term suspensions in the 2010-2011 school year, according to the report.

While black students make up less than a quarter of all Wake County students, they accounted for 63 percent of last year’s suspensions.

White students accounted for 16 percent of all suspensions during the last school year, while Hispanics accounted for 15 percent.

This year, for the first time, information was released about how many students end up in the court system after getting in trouble at school. Between July 1, 2014, and June 30, 2015, 850 students were referred to the court system and 69 percent of those students were black. In contrast, 22 percent of students referred to the courts were white and 8 percent were Hispanic.

According to the report, the odds of being arrested for fighting were 1.6 times higher for black students as compared to other students. The odds of a black student being arrested for theft was 1.7 times higher, the report said.

In 2014, a federal complaint was filed against the Wake County Public System, arguing minor misbehaviors were being disproportionately criminalized, affecting minority students. During the same year, the school board requested the new law enforcement data.

The concentrated numbers in the black student population continues to trouble district leaders, who have developed proposals to create alternatives to suspension and law enforcement intervention. In addition, the report said district leaders hope to expand mental health resources and launch a middle school discipline project.

"What schools aren't involving law enforcement officers and how can we replicate those schools that are having that success," said Legal Aid of North Carolina attorney Jennifer Story. "How can we get those numbers down and make sure those students aren't getting criminal records when others aren't."