Wake County looks to stop suspending students who get in trouble

WAKE COUNTY, N.C. (WTVD) -- Students who get in trouble in Wake County may not face school suspensions as a form of discipline in the future.

A proposal from the Wake County Board of Education aims to limit the number of school suspensions students face when they get in trouble at school.

"Suspensions have a very poor efficacy rate," Wake County Public Schools System board member Dr. Jim Martin said. "If suspensions worked, you would not see repeat suspensions...We want discipline that maximizes learning that changes behavior."

The proposal comes on the heels of a complaint filed in 2010 with the U.S. Department of Education's Office for Civil Rights. The OCR and WCPSS reached an agreement to resolve the way the district handles disciplinary action and to further be in compliance with Title VI of the Civil Rights Act of 1964.

In addition, the agreement with the OCR "is not an admission that (WCPSS) has violated Title VI and should not be construed as such. Further, OCR has not made any findings that (WCPSS) is in violation of the law."

The board is making changes to the following areas:

  • Discipline policies, practices, and procedures

  • Data collection and self-monitoring

  • District staff training

Critics of the district's policies have long said black students suffer more harshly for offenses than their white counterparts for similar violations. According to WCPSS suspension data for the 2016-2017 school year, black students made up 60 percent of all school suspensions. Whereas, white students only accounted for 19 percent.

Dr. Martin, however, does not believe the move is modeled after reducing suspensions for students of color.

"There's a lot of racial issues in our community that we need to address," Martin noted. "But no, I'm not going to single out African American parents as not teaching their children any more than any other parents are teaching their children."

For Martin and the board, suspensions will generally be reserved for student safety. Lower level offenses will be an opportunity to encourage and promote education within the school setting.

"If I suspend you, I send you to nowhere," he said. "I need to discipline into an educational environment, not out of an educational environment."

Martin also wanted to make clear the proposed changes to the student behavior code of student conduct.

"Right now if you read our code of conduct, it's violation, violation, violation. Have I ever said what I expect the behavior to be," he asked. "If we change this mindset from punishment to redirection, you're going to see less implicit bias across the board."

The school board will present the proposed changes to a committee in January, and it is likely to be finalized in Summer 2019 before the start of the 2018-2019 school year.

To read the WCPSS Annual Report of Student Discipline Data, click here.
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