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August 3, 2015

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education:

Black students 3 times more likely to be expelled in CCSD

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Dwight Jones, superintendent of the Clark County School District, talks during a meeting at the College of Education at UNLV in Las Vegas Thursday, August 25, 2011.

If you're a black student in the Clark County School District, you are three times more likely to be expelled from school than your nonblack peers.

Furthermore, your odds of getting suspended are more than double those of your nonblack peers.

These are the startling facts that have surfaced in a Vanderbilt University report on student discipline in Las Vegas. The study, which was commissioned by the School District, prompted Superintendent Dwight Jones to begin rethinking school conduct policies that disproportionately impact black students.

Schools across the nation are suspending and expelling black students at a higher rate than any other ethnic student group, resulting in hundreds of days of lost instructional time.

That has been particularly true in Clark County. Although black students constitute just 12 percent of the student population, they accounted for 43 percent of all high school student expulsions during the 2009-10 school year. Last school year, nearly a third of all behavior school referrals at the high school level were of black students.

At some Clark County schools, administrators are suspending students at alarming rates. Many of these schools serve students who are predominantly from minority backgrounds.

An Education Week report released in January found two schools in Clark County that issued nearly as many suspensions as their student enrollments during the 2009-10 school year.

At Del Sol High School, administrators issued 1,970 suspensions. Its student enrollment is 1,990.

At Brinley Middle School, administrators issued 735 suspensions. Its student enrollment is 795.

In response to these shocking figures, Superintendent Jones tasked a 24-member committee this past July to study this problem and come up with solutions. On Thursday, the Superintendent's Educational Opportunities Advisory Council released 10 recommendations to mitigate the overrepresentation of minority student groups in school suspensions and expulsions.

The committee recommended that the district impose a moratorium on suspensions and expulsions, except for what the district calls the "big five" offenses. These are the most severe offenses outlined under the Federal Guns-Free School Act of 1994: arson, weapons, drug distribution, battery or assault that results in injury and inappropriate sexual relationships.

Instead of issuing suspensions and expulsions, the district should investigate alternative disciplinary policies, the committee said. The new models should be tiered to match escalating poor behavior and include parent notification policies.

One such alternative that is being considered is the Baltimore model, popularized in Baltimore public schools.

Under this model, there are four levels of student offenses, corresponding to its seriousness, the degree of harm caused and the impact on the school community. Each level has its own set of school punishments.

For every level, parents are expected to receive prompt notification by phone, email or text.

The committee also recommended that the district provide mandatory cultural diversity training for all new teachers and administrators, and that one professional development day each year will focus on understanding cultural diversity.

The School District should invest in early childhood and literacy education for at-risk students between kindergarten and third grade, the committee said. That way students will remain engaged in their studies, instead of falling into problem behaviors.

Lastly, the committee recommended that the district collect better data on student discipline and appoint an administrator who is responsible for monitoring and publicly reporting the data four times a year.

The School Board is expected to weigh in on these recommendations at its March 6 meeting. Afterward, a smaller committee will work on specific guidelines and proposals to be brought forward to the School Board for input and approval.

"This is just the beginning," Jones told the School Board. "This is the start of the work we have to do."

School Board members commended the committee's work. They argued the time is now to correct a long-standing inequity in the district.

"We have some wrongs that need to be righted in this district," said School Board member Chris Garvey, choking back tears. "This is the first step in making this right in our district."

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