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Racial Disparities in Local School Suspensions

November 7th, 2018

School suspension rates are high in some Allegheny County school districts, and a new report shows that African American students are suspended at much higher rates than their non-Black classmates, according to a report from University of Pittsburgh researchers James P. Huguley, EdD, and Ming-Te Wang, EdD. High suspension rates were found to be related to poor academic performance, lower graduation rates, and increased contact with justice officials­­—often referred to as the “school-to-prison pipeline.” The authors also note that per graduating class, school suspensions cost the county about $9 million in lost tax revenue and $30 million in social costs such as reduced consumer spending and increased support needs.

Huguley’s team used Pennsylvania Department of Education data to analyze 51 Allegheny County public school districts and charter schools between 2013-2016, and found that African American students were suspended 7.3 times more than non-Black students. Thirty-seven of the 51 local schools had suspension rates for Black students that are at least double the national average. According to the report, “the research is clear that African American students are targeted and referred for discipline problems more frequently and receive harsher punishments then their non-Black peers who commit similar infractions, even among students with otherwise similar backgrounds.”

In response to their findings, Huguley and Wang’s team developed the Just Discipline Model, which proposes that all stakeholders—including school staff, students, families, and community members—work together to reduce school suspensions and provide support to students. Some of the suggestions include changing policies to ensure that minor offenses such as dress code violations and defiance will not lead to suspensions; hiring full-time in-school facilitators to work with students and staff; and increasing awareness about the ways that issues like poverty, implicit bias, and racial injustice histories affect the academic experience of students of color.

Learn about other research studies for teens and adolescents at Pitt+Me.

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