The number of students suspended or expelled from schools has declined, as have in-school arrests, but minority students face disciplinary action more often than their white peers, according to a report released today by Connecticut Voices for Children.
Between 2008 and 2013, in-school arrests dropped 34.8 percent statewide while expulsions declined 31 percent and out-of-school suspensions fell 46.5 percent, the report noted.
The report, “Keeping Kids in Class: School Discipline in Connecticut, 2008-2013,” analyzed data provided by school districts statewide.
While the drop in disciplinary actions is encouraging, Connecticut schools still have work to do, according to the advocacy group.
“Extensive research shows that excluding children from school for disciplinary problems is often ineffective and even counterproductive. Children learn best when they are in school,” the report says. The rate of arrests, suspensions and expulsions in Connecticut schools, while dropping, “remains alarmingly high” and inconsistent.
Among the report’s findings in 2013:
• Black students were nearly five times more likely to be arrested, five times more likely to be expelled and more than six times more likely to be suspended out of school than white students.
• Hispanic students were arrested three times more often, expelled more than twice as often and suspended more than four times more often than white students.
• Special education students were disciplined more frequently than their mainstream counterparts. They were arrested three times more often, expelled about twice as often and suspended out of school nearly three times as often, the report found.
• Students in the poorest urban areas – New Haven, Hartford, Waterbury, New Britain, Windham and New London – were arrested 23 times more often, expelled more than 17 times more often, suspended out of school 24 times more often and suspended in school nearly 10 times more often than those in wealthy suburban areas.
“This report tells us that many schools in Connecticut have reformed their disciplinary practices and reduced student arrests, expulsions and out-of-school suspensions,” Ellen Shemitz, executive director of Connecticut Voices for Children, said in a statement. “Yet these reforms have not benefitted all children equally. How can we hope to reduce the yawning achievement gap when school disciplinary practices push minority children out of school at disproportionate rates?”
According to the report, in the 2013 school year there were 2,391 school-based arrests, 40,897 out-of-school suspensions, 72,678 in-school suspensions and 984 expulsions.
Hartford had the greatest number of out-of-school suspensions with 2,188 (total enrollment of 21,847); followed by Bridgeport with 1,340 (total enrollment of 20,155) and Waterbury with 1,295 (total enrollment of 18,389). In each school district the number of disciplinary actions declined from the previous school year.
The most in-school suspensions took place in Bridgeport, which had 2,110, followed by Hartford with 1,435 and New Britain with 1,293 suspensions (total enrollment of 10,217). In-school suspensions declined in Bridgeport and Hartford but rose in New Britain, compared to the previous year.
Bridgeport school officials are encouraged by an overall drop in disciplinary actions in the district but are committed to further reductions, said Michael Mulford, Bridgeport Public School’s assistant superintendent of student support services and operations.
The schools have created a memorandum of agreement with local police to create a “more consistent response to school incidents” and reduced the number of referrals of students to court, he said.
“We also have increased the number of school referrals to the Juvenile Review Board as a diversionary tactic and have continued an active relationship with the Regional Youth Adult Social Action Partnership,” he said. “We also participate in the work of the Disproportionate Minority Contact Committee to reduce contact with students of color, and the Juvenile Justice Task Force to reduce truancy and school suspension rates.”
Statewide, the most common reasons for both in-school and out-of-school suspensions in 2013 were school policy violations, fighting/battery and physical or verbal confrontations.
In 2013, Hartford schools had the most expulsions with 97. The Connecticut Technical High School System and New Haven schools each had 80. The most common reasons students were expelled in Connecticut were drugs, alcohol and tobacco; weapons and fighting/battery.
The greatest number of arrests during the 2013 school year were in Waterbury schools, which had 308, followed by the Connecticut Technical High School System with 136 and New Britain with 128. The most common causes for student arrests in 2013, as in 2011, were fighting/battery; drugs, alcohol and tobacco; and physical or verbal confrontations.
The report makes the argument that disciplinary actions could be reduced further in Connecticut schools, since many of the things for which students were expelled or suspended could have been handled within the school. “School policy violations,” for instance, include things like skipping class and using profanity, according the report.
To further cut down on arrests, expulsions and suspensions, Connecticut Voices for Children recommends that policymakers and state education officials: improve data collection by clearly defining “student arrests,” which is not defined by the state, and publishing arrest data; require districts with in-school police to create memoranda of agreement between schools and police to set ground rules regarding arrests; and implement preventative strategies and other measures to reduce racial and other disparities.
“Children need a respectful learning environment, but excluding children from school for disciplinary reasons is not effective and may widen our educational achievement gaps,” Sarah Iverson, co-author of the report and policy fellow at Connecticut Voices for Children, said in a statement. “Many schools are effective at managing problem student behaviors while keeping children in the classroom, and we should share lessons about what works.”
The Child Health Development Institute has a program aimed at diverting youth from the school-to-prison pipeline. For information click here.