Education

Separate And Unequal: Minnesota School District To Review All Suspensions Of ‘Black And Brown’ Students

Minneapolis Public Schools are implementing a new policy aimed at eliminating the gap between the races when it comes to suspensions. Nothing will change for white students, they will still be suspended at the discretion of each school’s principal. But for minority students, specifically black, Hispanic and Native American students, the Minneapolis Schools Superintendent’s office will personally review each case.

This new policy is part of an agreement with U.S. Department of Education’s Office of Civil Rights announced last week after an investigation into why minority students made up such a high percentage suspended students in the past.

Superintendent Bernadeia Johnson told NPR, “I and all of my staff will start to review all non-violent suspensions of students of color, especially black boys, to understand why they’re being suspended so we can help intervene with teachers, student leaders and help give them the targeted support they need for these students.”

In a press release announcing the new policy, which begins Monday, Johnson’s office said, “Moving forward, every suspension of a black or brown student will be reviewed by the superintendent’s leadership team. The school district aims to more deeply understand the circumstances of suspensions with the goal of providing greater supports to the school, student or family in need. This team could choose to bring in additional resources for the student, family and school.”

Johnson hopes to eliminate the “nonviolent suspension gap” by the year 2018. “To achieve this,” the statement read, “MPS must aggressively reduce the disproportionality between black and brown students and their white peers every year for the next four years. This will begin with a 25 percent reduction in disproportionality by the end of this school year; 50 percent by 2016; 75 percent by 2017; and 100 percent by 2018.”

The ethnic make-up of Minneapolis schools is majority minority. According to data for the 2014-2015 school year, 33.8 percent of students are white, while 37.2 percent are black, 19.3 percent are Hispanic, and 3.8 percent are Native American. Asians represent 6.8 percent of the student body but were not mentioned by Superintendent Johnson as being impacted by this new policy.

How this policy of different standards for students of different races squares with the Supreme Court decision in Brown vs. Board of Education of Topeka remains to be seen, but court challenges are expected in the case.

The full statement from Minneapolis Public Schools is below:

Minneapolis Public Schools (MPS) Superintendent Bernadeia Johnson announced today her intent to eliminate the nonviolent suspension gap by 2018. To achieve this, MPS must aggressively reduce the disproportionality between black and brown students and their white peers every year for the next four years. This will begin with a 25 percent reduction in disproportionality by the end of this school year; 50 percent by 2016; 75 percent by 2017; and 100 percent by 2018.

This goal, along with an update on the school district’s continued direction for implementing behavior standards and disciplinary action, will be presented at the Board of Education meeting on Monday.

Moving forward, every suspension of a black or brown student will be reviewed by the superintendent’s leadership team. The school district aims to more deeply understand the circumstances of suspensions with the goal of providing greater supports to the school, student or family in need. This team could choose to bring in additional resources for the student, family and school.

The announcement comes on the heels of the superintendent’s announcement this fall placing a moratorium on nonviolent suspensions for students in Pre-Kindergarten through first grade, which began in September. While the moratorium affected the school district’s youngest learners, efforts paid off in multiple areas already. Compared to last school year at this time, suspensions for all student groups have nearly been cut in half.

“We embrace the charge to serve all students in our city with a high quality education. We take ownership of ensuring that our policies and practices equitably serve all students, especially those who have been historically marginalized in MPS,” said Johnson. “Changing the trajectory for our students of color is a moral and ethical imperative, and our actions must be drastically different to achieve our goal of closing the achievement gap by 2020.”

MPS has undertaken many significant efforts in recent years to ensure that students, especially those of color, graduate from MPS with a high quality education. Examples of this work include creating the new behavior standards policy; enacting the moratorium on non-violent suspension in PreK-1; establishing the Office of Black Male Student Achievement; passing an equity policy; and launching important academic supports, such as the winter and spring break academies designed to offer greater learning opportunities for students.

MPS passed the behavior standards policy in December of 2013 with the goal of increasing the amount of quality time students spend learning. In part, the school district plans to achieve this by increasing the connection to school and engagement in earning and by reducing suspension and out-of-class time, especially for students who are disproportionately affected by discipline that places them outside of class.