The decrease in charter expulsions comes amid increased public scrutiny of the schools’ discipline policies. D.C. charters expelled students at a rate more than three times the national average in 2011-12 — the rate was 72 times higher than in the city’s traditional school system — according to a Washington Post analysis earlier this year.
“I think that the charter schools are revisiting their policies to provide safe environments for all students while trying not to exclude students — or when you exclude them, for as short a time as possible,” said Naomi DeVeaux, deputy director of the D.C. Charter Board.
Critics have said that charters, which have the freedom to design their own discipline policies, expel students excessively and with too little oversight. Many charter leaders say that they remove students only when necessary to ensure that their classrooms are safe and conducive to learning.
“Nobody wants to see high expulsion rates, but no one wants to see schools that aren’t safe,” said Susan Schaeffler, chief executive officer of the KIPP DC charter network. “It’s a very difficult balance between the two.”
KIPP DC College Preparatory, a high school, expelled 17 students in 2011-12 — or 5 percent of its enrollment. In 2012-13, the rate plummeted by 85 percent: Three students were removed for disciplinary reasons.
Schaeffler said the decrease stems partly from policy changes meant to prevent discipline problems, including shorter passing periods between classes and a revised demerit system that emphasizes rewards over punishment.
But in future years, expulsion rates could be higher, she said, adding that discipline data normally fluctuate because of student behavior, which varies from year to year for many reasons. One violent incident involving many students can boost expulsion rates quickly, she said, and although KIPP DC watches its discipline data closely, officials will continue to expel students if necessary to maintain safety.
More than half of the city’s 102 charter campuses recorded zero expulsions in the past school year. But not every school saw a decrease. Parkside Middle, a campus of the Cesar Chavez Public Charter Schools for Public Policy, expelled 12 students in 2012-13, four times as many as the year before.
YouthBuild, an alternative high school that caters to students who have dropped out or are older than 16, previously had the highest expulsion rate in the city. It expelled 30 students, or nearly one-third of its population, in 2011-12. That rate dropped 85 percent the next school year, when five students were expelled.