Black students are two to five times more likely to be suspended or expelled than white students in Washington area schools, according to an analysis by my colleague Donna St. George.

Suspension rates for black students were nearly three times higher than for white students in St. Mary’s County. They were six times higher in Alexandria, four times higher in Fairfax, and five times higher in Montgomery County.

Suspensions have been tied to higher dropout rates, and educators are concerned about the growing racial disparities in school discipline.

St. George interviewed Montgomery County Deputy Superintendent Frieda K. Lacey about the imbalance there.

Lacey said the district has trained principals in new approaches to making decisions about suspensions. From the story:

Still, she said, much remains to be done. Nearly 6 percent of black students were suspended or expelled from school last year, compared with 1.2 percent of white students. The gap remains even as suspensions are down since 2006 across all racial groups.

She pointed to one unsettling statistic: 71 percent of suspensions for insubordination, a relatively rare offense in the county, were handed out to black students. African Americans make up 21 percent of students in Montgomery’s schools.

The goal is to dig deeper into the data, offer more professional development and share best practices, she said. “We don’t try to minimize the data,” Lacey said. “We just try to talk about it the way it exists.”