Black students in Arlington secondary schools were suspended last year at a rate more than three times as high as white students, according to a report prepared by the county school system.
The number of suspensions involving cigarette smoking and drugs decreased more than 50 percent during the 1982-83 school year from the previous year, the report said. School officials said they had no explanation for the decline.
The report was prepared in response to complaints last year from members of Arlington's black community, who contended that black students often receive more severe punishment--such as suspension--than white students for similar infractions of school rules.
Blacks were suspended at a rate almost five times higher than whites at Yorktown High and Williamsburg Intermediate schools, the report said.
"I'm not surprised" by the report's findings, Arlington NAACP chapter President William Cassell Butler said yesterday. Butler said he will ask school principals, whom he said are "the ones in the controlling situation," to review the findings.
Asked about the difference in suspension rates for black and white students, schools community relations director Daniel Brown said, "part of it, quite frankly, is us, the system . . . . It would not be honest, it would not be fair to place all of the blame on youngsters."
Brown said the figures in the report reflect a "multifaceted" problem involving student conduct and motivation and the attitudes of teachers and administrators.
School Board Chairman Simone J. Pace could not be reached for comment.
Arlington students were suspended and sent home from intermediate and senior high schools 705 times last year (some students were suspended more than once)--down 9 percent from the previous school year, according to the report. Brown said the overall reduction in the number of students sent home from school is due to greater use of a program in which students accused of minor infractions can be sent to "in school" suspension centers. No figures are available on the use of that "in school" program.
Eight percent of all white students and 27 percent of all black students were suspended at least once, according to the figures. Even when repeat offenders are considered, the gap between suspensions for black and white students is "tremendous," Brown said.
Black students accounted for 39 percent of the suspensions while constituting 15 percent of the system's 14,000-student enrollment. Whites accounted for 48 percent of the suspensions while constituting 59 percent of the student enrollment. Hispanic students--9 percent of the population--were involved in 8 percent of the suspensions while Asian students--14 percent of the population--were involved in 5 percent of the suspensions.
Several other Washington area school jurisdictions recently have cited significant differences in suspension rates for black and white students. Earlier this month, a Montgomery County report showed that blacks were suspended from secondary schools at a rate more than twice as high as that for white students. A Prince George's County NAACP report showed blacks received 59 percent of the suspensions in 1979 while constituting 44 percent of the school population. In Fairfax, 4.8 percent of all whites were suspended at least once, compared with 13 percent for blacks.
Students can be suspended from Arlington schools for a number of infractions such as fighting, using obscene language, using or possessing drugs, forging notes, stealing and vandalizing school property. Punishment ranges from a maximum of three consecutive days in an in-school suspension center for minor offenses to a maximum of 10 days out of school for a repeated serious offense.