Pioneer Press: Schools agree to address discipline bias; students of color more likely to be suspended, expelled

By Christopher Magan| Pioneer Press| April 27, 2018

Ten Minnesota school districts and charter schools have reached a pact with the state Department of Human Rights to fix racial disparities in student discipline.

Two other school districts could be headed to court after failing to agree upon a plan.

“I’m encouraged,” Kevin Lindsey, human rights commissioner, said of school leaders’ plans.

“There was some good ideas that came out of the conversations with the school districts and charter schools,” he said. “They are going to drive change and we will see positive results in Minnesota because of their efforts.”

WIDE DISPARITY ON WHO GETS EXPELLED, SUSPENDED

The efforts come after an inquiry by the department found students of color and those with disabilities face suspension and expulsion at much higher rates than their white classmates. Students of color make up one-third of public school enrollment, but they account for nearly two-thirds of disciplinary incidents.


Overall, students of color and those with disabilities are two times more likely to face suspension or expulsion. Black and American Indian students face the largest disparities.

Black students are eight times more likely than whites to be expelled or suspended, and American Indians are 10 times more likely, data from the Minnesota Department of Education shows.

State leaders say the discipline disparities amount to human rights violations. The 10 districts and charter schools to reach an agreement are:

  • North St. Paul-Maplewood-Oakdale
  • Bloomington
  • Cass Lake-Bena
  • Mankato
  • Robbinsdale
  • St. Paul City Charter
  • Best Academy
  • Dugsi Academy
  • Mastery Academy
  • Prairie Seeds Academy

The St. Louis Park and Walker-Hackensack-Akeley districts were unable to reach a deal, and the Department of Human Rights will decide if there is probable cause to continue with discrimination charges.

The collaborative agreements reached between the Human Rights Department and the school districts aim to address the “implicit bias that influences perceptions of student behavior.” The pacts allow local schools to modify efforts to meet their unique needs.

CLOSING GAPS KEY TO KEEPING STATE’S COMPETITIVE EDGE

Closing discipline disparities is essential as Minnesota’s population grows more diverse, Lindsey said. Students of color need to have equitable educational opportunities if the state is going to maintain its competitive advantage.

“It is critically important, not just for them, but for all of us,” Lindsey said.

Rep. Carlos Mariani, DFL-St. Paul, who also directs the Minnesota Education Equity Partnership, said addressing discipline disparities should have a big impact on academic achievement.

Closing academic gaps can’t be done without advancing civil rights, and with the state’s help, our schools can do that while designing better ways to create safe schools where all students learn,” Mariani said in a statement announcing the agreements.

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