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Anchorage schools suspend black students, students with disabilities at higher rates

  • Author: Tegan Hanlon
  • Updated: September 28, 2016
  • Published October 21, 2015

Anchorage school officials suspended black students and students with disabilities at a rate double that of all students last school year, according to a recent report from the Anchorage School District.

Across the school district, 845 students with disabilities received 1,825 out-of-school suspensions. That means about 10.9 percent of students with disabilities got out-of-school suspensions and some had to leave school more than once. For black students, the numbers added up to 609 out-of-school suspensions for 339 students, or about 11.1 percent of the population, according to the report.

Meanwhile among all students, school disciplinarians doled out 4,524 out-of-school suspensions to 2,615 students during the 2014-15 school year. That's a rate of about 5.1 percent.

About 2.1 percent of Asian students and about 3.6 percent of white students received out-of-school suspensions, said the report presented at Monday's School Board meeting.

School District Superintendent Ed Graff said the comprehensive report will allow administrators to look at suspension data on a more frequent basis and under various lenses. The report will serve as a baseline for the school district. Principals have just started analyzing the data, he said.

"This report is going to generate some very hard conversations," he said. "We're asking difficult questions. We're reflecting on our practices. We're looking at our resources."

Starr Marsett, who is running in next year's School Board election, testified at the meeting Monday and underscored the disciplinary discrepancies between students with disabilities and their peers, as well as students of color and their peers.

"It's just crazy," she said in an interview Wednesday. "It shouldn't be that way."

Marsett said that her grandson, who has high-functioning autism, was suspended 21 times in 9th grade because of profanity. By giving students out-of-school suspension, administers take away their right to quality education, she said.

Starr sat on a small subcommittee this summer, which came up with a list of recommendations for the school district's suspension policy. Those recommendations included additional training for school resource officers, conflict-resolution training for student clubs, teachers and administrators, and establishing a school discipline oversight committee.

"We need to do away with suspensions except for cases of weapons or drugs or things like that," Starr said.

The school district report said that most of the out-of-school suspensions last year stemmed from fighting and physical violence, followed by "dangerous actions," "willful disobedience" and "disruptive behavior."

Students in eighth grade received out-of-school suspensions most often, while those in third grade got that punishment the least. In kindergarten, 97 students were given out-of-school suspensions a total of 228 times. Of that, 47 offenders were students with disabilities, the report said.

Of all high schools in the report, Bartlett High School had the highest percentage of students receiving out-of-school suspensions at about 11.4 percent. South High School had the lowest at about 2.1 percent. In middle school, about 15 percent of the student population at Begich Middle School received out-of-school suspensions, compared to about 4 percent at Gruening Middle School.

Male students were suspended at a rate nearly three times greater than that of their female peers.

Graff said school administrators are currently trying to identify trends in out-of-school suspensions and make sure they're supporting individual students.

"There's obvious room for improvement," he said. "Our job is to first make sure we have a safe environment and then minimize the impact to a child's learning."

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