Fewer students are being expelled or sent home for misbehaving in D.C. public schools and public charter schools, a new study from the city government shows.
In the 2015-2016 school year, 7,324 students in the District were suspended from school, according to a report last month from the Office of the State Superintendent of Education, or OSSE.
In a separate study in fall 2015, officials had found that about 8,400 students received at least one out-of-school suspension in 2014-2015. The totals from the two school years are not entirely comparable because they were counted using different methods. But officials said that the latest study shows a significant decline in suspensions.
The new report analyzed data for 94,053 students who were enrolled in traditional public schools or public charter schools at any point during the school year.
Of those who were suspended, a third received the punishment more than once. The total number of suspensions fell 24 percent, from 16,762 in 2014-2015 to 12,695 in the past school year.
Mirroring national efforts, city and school officials have worked to reduce the number of suspensions. Experts say there are links between punitive disciplinary actions and increased chances of students’ dropping out and entering the criminal justice system. More schools are using alternatives to suspensions that aim to build relationships between students and teachers and repair the harm caused by aggression or conflict in the classroom.
“There are signs that these efforts are working,” D.C. Council member David Grosso (I-At Large) said Thursday during a hearing to review the findings. “But once you dig into the school-level data and break it down by subgroups, it tells a very different story.”
The report, published Jan. 6, found that traditional public schools and public charter schools in the District have made little progress in closing racial disparities in discipline.
Black students are nearly seven times more likely to be suspended than their white peers, the report found. More than 10 percent of black students in the city’s schools were suspended at least once, compared with fewer than 1 percent of white students.
There is also some concern that schools are not accurately counting suspensions. Several education advocates told council members that some schools are using “do-not-admit” lists that forbid a student from returning after a suspension unless a parent escorts the student back to school and meets with administrators.
Grosso called these “informal exclusionary practices” worrisome. Eduardo Ferrer, a lawyer with DC Lawyers for Youth, said that schools should avoid such measures and that the city must do more to collect data on informal suspensions.
OSSE’s report also found 99 expulsions last school year, down from 134 in 2014-2015. Most were in charter schools, which often have higher expulsion rates than traditional schools. When charters expel students, they often end up in traditional schools, which are required to take them.
More than half of the out-of-school suspensions occurred in charter schools, according to the report. At some charter schools, particularly middle schools, more than a third of all students were suspended at least once.
Monument Academy, a charter in Northeast, suspended more than 35 percent of its 40 students last school year. Officials at the school did not respond to email and phone messages seeking comment.
At Kramer Middle School, a traditional public school in Southeast, nearly 42 percent of its 247 students were suspended. John Hayden Johnson Middle School, also a traditional public school in Southeast, suspended about 33 percent of its 290 students.
Michelle Lerner, the school system’s spokeswoman, said DCPS wants all students “in class every day.”
“Both Kramer Middle School and Johnson Middle School have started restorative practices this school year, so we will begin seeing reductions in suspensions,” Lerner said. Last school year, high schools with restorative practices saw a 50 percent reduction in suspensions, according to Lerner.