Black students were suspended at a rate more than twice as high as white students in Montgomery County secondary schools last year, according to a report to be discussed at the school board meeting Tuesday.
Montgomery school officials said that although there had been very modest gains in narrowing the gap between the suspension rate of blacks and whites over the past year, the remaining discrepancy indicated major problems still existed. In one school, for example, the suspension rate of black students was nearly seven times as high as that of white students.
Overall, school officials said 3,666 students were suspended last year--down one-tenth of a percent from the 1981-82 school year--with 15.2 percent of all black students and 6.5 percent of all white students suspended at least once.
Slightly more than 7 percent of all Hispanic students and 2.1 percent of all Asian students were suspended. Last year, 17 percent of all blacks were suspended. The total number of suspensions last year--some students were suspended more than once--was 5,563.
"Its very discouraging," said James Robinson, chairman of the Citizens Minority Relations Monitoring Committee. The committee, an independent organization of citizens and black organizations, released a scathing indictment last month of the school system's approach to educating black and Hispanic students.
"Although there has been a very, very modest improvement in some schools, what the new figures say to me is that the system has not yet developed the capacity to deal fairly and effectively with black students," Robinson said.
The difference in suspension rates between blacks and whites also has been a problem in a number of other Washington metropolitan school jurisdictions. In Arlington, the county chapter of the NAACP has complained that 19 percent of its black students had been suspended more than once, compared with only 4 percent of all students.
In Prince George's County, as evidence of a failure to desegregate its schools, the NAACP chapter there submitted figures on suspensions that showed that in 1979, while blacks made up 44 percent of the school population, they received 59 percent of the disciplinary suspensions that year. And in Fairfax, 4.8 percent of all whites were suspended at least once, while 13 percent of all blacks were.
The latest criticism in Montgomery comes at a time when school officials are searching for ways to re-establish the county's reputation as a national leader in progressive race relations after a four-year period of discord between the school board and minority group leaders.
School board President Blair Ewing, who has made improvements in minority education one of the top goals of the present board, called the figures "very worrisome" and said "it is difficult to believe that the figures do not reflect some differential treatment."
Steve Frankel, director of the system's Department of Educational Accountability, agreed with Ewing and said the latest report calls for remedial action.
Principals in schools with particularly high suspension rates of blacks, however, said the meting out of punishments fit the infractions. Some principals also added that the proportionately smaller number of minority students sometimes leads to a skewed picture when comparing rates of suspension or percentages. Blacks represented last year 12.5 percent of the county's 49,640 secondary students.
"We don't look at who did it but what was done," said Phillip Dean, principal of John T. Baker Intermediate in Damascus. The 29 blacks at Baker were suspended last year at a rate of 34.5 percent, compared with a rate of 5.5 percent for the 583 whites.
"When a student is suspended it is not done without consideration. I think you will find that if you look at what action has been committed," Dean said. In addition, the 10 students suspended at Baker represented 15 suspensions, while the 32 white students made up 47 suspensions (a number of students were suspended more than once).
Students can be suspended in Montgomery County for physically or verbally attacking a staff member or other students, drinking alcohol, using drugs, carrying a dangerous weapon, vandalizing school property, or smoking without permission. Students are expelled from school if they are caught selling drugs or school officials deem their behavior is unfit for further school participation. Five students were expelled last year from Montgomery County schools.