April 29, 2015

Racial Disparities in School Suspensions Found Across State

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Minority students are being suspended at higher rates than their white classmates not only in Oklahoma City Public Schools, which triggered a federal probe, but also in other districts across the state, U.S. Department of Education data show.

The disparity is often greatest between black and white students, but also occurs between white students and American Indian and Hispanic students.

A federal civil rights investigation into Oklahoma City Public Schools began after a complaint of racial bias in how students are disciplined was filed with the U.S. Department of Education.

The district conducted it’s own audit of discipline records that found black students are two to three times more likely to be suspended than white students.

The trend is similar across the nation.

The U.S. Department of Education has raised concerns that zero tolerance policies adversely affect minority students, who end up getting suspended for minor offenses. Minor offenses can include talking back to a teacher, being late or skipping school.

The discrepancy in suspensions can start at a young age in Oklahoma.

Atoka Elementary School in Atoka County suspended 15.4 percent of its black students, 12.5 percent of its Hispanic students and 8.3 percent of its white students.

Okmulgee Primary Elementary School suspended 43 percent of black students compared with 27.1 percent of white students.

At Kinta High School, 9.1 percent of  American Indian students and no white students were suspended.

In Will Rogers Junior High School in Claremore, 22.8 percent of American Indian students and 26.2 percent of Hispanic students were suspended. The school also suspended 92 percent of its black students and 13.5 percent of its white students.

Oklahoma City Superintendent Rob Neu said his district was suspending academically struggling students for minor offenses such as skipping school. Neu, who is in his first year at Oklahoma City, said that can lead to students dropping out.

Oklahoma City is changing its policies to ensure students are only suspended for serious infractions.

Victor Henderson contributed to this story.