Officials look for underlying reasons behind the disproportionately higher suspensions and expulsions of black students in Portland, Oregon schools
One in four African American middle school students was suspended or expelled from Portland Public Schools last year. One in 14 white middle schoolers was suspended or expelled during the same period, records show.
Now district leaders are examining to what extent race influences discipline decisions.
Multiple factors, including parent involvement and skills, poverty, student friendships and personality, can contribute to misbehavior, district officials say. Nevertheless, they concede, the disparity among the races is striking.
"This is a problem that Portland Public is not going to be able to solve alone," said Willie Poinsette, the district's chief of student, family and school support.
Last year, with 44,803 students, the district counted a total of 2,874 suspensions and 153 expulsions; some students were removed more than once. African Americans received 1,241; white students received 1,144. However, white students accounted for 57 percent of the district's population while African Americans made up 16 percent.
Rates of discipline are disproportionate no matter whether a student attends a low-income Portland school or a wealthy one. For example, at Kellogg Middle School, where 67 percent of kids qualified for free and reduced-price lunch, white students made up 50 percent of the population and received 11.2 percent of the suspensions and expulsions. African American students made up 10 percent of the population and 33 percent of the suspensions and expulsions. At Gray Middle School, which has 25 percent of students getting subsidized lunch, white students make up 77 percent of the student body and received 3 percent of suspensions and expulsions. Six percent of students are African American; they received 10 percent of suspensions and expulsions.
The consequences are significant because kids lose class time. A major suspension can bar students from school for 10 days; expelled students can't come back for up to one year. Student advocates say kids who aren't in school are probably unsupervised and could graduate to serious crime. One-third of juveniles on probation in Multnomah County over a two-year period said they'd been suspended or expelled sometime in the previous six months.
Researchers nationwide have studied the overrepresentation of African Americans in discipline referrals, suspensions and expulsions. And Portland officials have known of the disparity locally for decades.
Suspensions of Minority Students Increase