Education

Black students in Manatee schools suspended three times as often as whites

Manatee County School Superintendent Diana Greene says the high number of black students receiving discipline in county schools is reflective of a nation-wide issue and one the community must acknowledge.
Manatee County School Superintendent Diana Greene says the high number of black students receiving discipline in county schools is reflective of a nation-wide issue and one the community must acknowledge. Herald file photo

Black students in the Manatee County School District were more than three times likely to be suspended than their white classmates during the 2015-16 school year.

Black students accounted for about 14 percent of the student population last year, but 33 percent of out-of-school suspensions, according to data obtained from the school district.

Black students also account for a third of the school district’s office referrals.

Black students account for more than a third of out-of-school suspensions although they only make up 14 percent of the student population.

Superintendent Diane M. Greene said the high number of black students receiving discipline in county schools is reflective of a nationwide issue and one the community must acknowledge.

“Nobody likes sharing something that doesn’t look good, but the first step to fixing anything is acknowledging, ‘This is where we are,’ ” Greene said.

Data from the school district revealed:

▪  Although there are twice as many Hispanic students in Manatee schools, more black students than Hispanic students have been disciplined each year since 2011-12.

▪  The data is steady. The district provided data dating to 2011-12, and each year the black students are roughly 3.4 to 3.7 times more likely to get suspended than their white peers.

▪  As of November 2016, black students accounted for 34 percent of students suspended and 38 percent of the total out-of-school suspensions.

Rodney Jones, president of the Manatee County branch of the NAACP, said the numbers indicate both problems within the school system and within the black community.

“I think there is definitely some racism in the school district because it exists everywhere, so it would be fool-hearty to think it doesn’t exist in the school district,” Jones said. “But the other end of it is the black community has some parenting issues. The kids aren’t going to school prepared, and they are going to school with discipline issues.”

Greene said high rates of black students who have disciplinary issues at school can’t be explained by simply concluding that teachers have bias or that black students misbehave more than any other race.

But the other end of it is the black community has some parenting issues. The kids aren’t going to school prepared, and they are going to school with discipline issues.

Rodney Jones, President of the Manatee County Branch of the NAACP

“How do we provide training and strategies for our teachers, and how do we do that for our students? We have to help students change how they handle situations,” Greene said. “You’ve got to burn that candle at both ends, and that’s not a change that happens after one training.”

Manatee County School Board Vice-Chairman John A. Colon said he sees the issue being rooted in a lack of role models.

“A lot of this begins unfortunately at home. I think that one of the major things we could do to help mitigate this would be mentoring to a lot of students,” Colon said. “Role models can show them the way and show them that things don’t have to be the way things are on TV.”

Greene said her chief concern is ensuring rules are enforced equally.

The school district rewrote the code of student conduct four years ago to try to ensure rules are enforced consistently across the district. The code lays out student expectations and consequences for misbehavior. The code is designed to establish a matrix for discipline, so students receive the same consequences for the same actions.

Many offenses are cut and dry, Greene said. When two students get into a fight in the courtyard, deciding on the consequence is not complicated.

But the most common offense students commit is one that can be open to interpretation: disrespect/defiance. Students were written up for being disrespectful or defiant 8,459 times last school year.

“If you have Jenny from Northwest Bradenton and then you got Bobby from a very different socioeconomic neighborhood, how you respond to Jenny and how you respond to Bobby are very different,” Jones said. “Bobby may seem angry, but that’s just how he communicates. He has to be tough at home to protect himself and keep people off of him.”

Greene was hesitant to endorse that approach, questioning how realistic it is to expect teachers to cater their response to each individual student, based on the student’s background.

“An elementary school teacher has 18 students coming from 18 different backgrounds. It would be unreasonable for me to expect that they could figure out all 18 backgrounds and make sure each interaction is culturally appropriate,” Greene said. “What we want them to understand is big-picture items when it comes to culture.”

The school district rewrote the code of student conduct four years ago to try to ensure rules are enforced consistently across the district.

While she said diversity in staffing is important, Greene said she isn’t sure if more minority teachers are the solution.

“That would mean, I’m African-American, and I’m the superintendent, so why aren’t they behaving?” she said.

Greene said there is one avenue she is confident could put a dent in decreasing black student referrals and suspensions: more male teachers.

“Many of our students are coming from single-parent homes, and that male role model, that mentor is missing. For many children, that father helped them understand boundaries,” Greene said. “I would state having more male teachers could have more impact than anything about race.”

Ryan McKinnon: 941-745-7027, @JRMcKinnon

Disproportionate Discipline

2012-13

White students: 51 percent of population; 34 percent of suspensions

Hispanic students: 29 percent of population; 29 percent of suspension

Black students: 14 percent of population; 33 percent of suspensions

2013-14

White students: 50 percent of population; 32 percent of suspensions

Hispanic students: 31 percent of population; 30 percent of suspension

Black students: 14 percent of population; 35 percent of suspensions

2014-15

White students: 49 percent of population; 33 percent of suspensions

Hispanic students: 32 percent of population; 30 percent of suspension

Black students: 14 percent of population; 33 percent of suspensions

2015-16

White students: 48 percent of population; 34 percent of suspensions

Hispanic students: 33 percent of population; 28 percent of suspension

Black students: 14 percent of population; 33 percent of suspensions

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