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Allegheny

Report: Black students suspended at twice the rate of whites in many Allegheny County schools

Natasha Lindstrom
| Tuesday, Aug. 21, 2018, 10:39 a.m.

Nearly three-fourths of Allegheny County public school districts suspend black students at twice the rate of white students and more than a third of districts have excessive suspension rates overall, a new report says.

The findings are among research published Tuesday after a four-year examination of state and local data by the University of Pittsburgh’s Center on Race and Social Problems.

“The overuse of school suspensions represents a pressing and costly problem to the greater Pittsburgh region,” the report says.

With higher-than-state-average suspension rates in 80 percent of districts countywide, “the overuse of exclusionary discipline practices is not simply an issue of poverty, urbanicity or tough schools with tough kids,” the report says. “It is a regionwide problem, and one that disproportionately impacts our most vulnerable students.”

The 40-page report, “Just Discipline and the School-to-Prison Pipeline in Greater Pittsburgh,” includes data and analyses spanning 51 traditional public schools as well as charter schools across Allegheny County and is based on state data collected between 2013 and 2016.

Researchers say they found data demonstrating local suspension rates well above state and national averages to be “startling” and “alarming,” particularly because of the disproportionate use of out-of-school suspensions as a way to discipline low-income and minority students.

“Suspensions are especially harmful to children in poverty,” the report said. “Their higher prominence in urban schools compounds the challenges facing our most vulnerable students.”

Researchers say increasing suspensions is a “counterproductive approach to promoting achievement” that results in negative academic as well as economic consequences.

The report comes as education officials nationwide examine how to improve disciplinary practices.

Schools are increasing mental health services, expanding alternative education programs, updating their student conduct policies and exploring the effects of “restorative justice practices,” which focus on building relationships with students in an effort to come up with a resolution other than removing a child from school.

The report lists several recommendations to curb the problem, noting that to be effective, solutions should be developed through the guidance and input of all school employees rather than via top-down orders and mandates.

Starting next month, Pittsburgh Public Schools — the state’s second-largest district behind Philadelphia — will be among the first school districts in Pennsylvania to prohibit principals from suspending students in grades K-2. The out-of-school suspension ban will apply only to students in preschool through second grade cited for nonviolent, “minor disciplinary infractions,” such as repeatedly showing up late, violating the school’s dress code or disrupting class.

Proponents of such changes point to research that links high numbers of missed school days to higher likelihoods of students struggling academically, dropping out of school and being referred to the juvenile justice system.

Check back later for updates, including details on which local schools have the highest suspension rates.

Natasha Lindstrom is a Tribune-Review staff writer. You can contact Natasha at 412-380-8514, nlindstrom@tribweb.com or via Twitter @NewsNatasha.

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