Expulsions dip to record low in Denver schools

The number of students expelled from Denver Public Schools has dipped to an historic low at a time of steady enrollment growth.

However, students who face harsh penalties for breaking school rules are disproportionately African-American students, according to a report presented Tuesday evening to the Denver school board.

There were 185 expulsions in 2009-2010 compared to 63 last year, said John Simmons, executive director of student services for the district. Meanwhile, the number of out-of-school suspensions has declined in that same period from 9,558 to 7,525 last year.

Fifty-five percent of students suspended from school last year were Hispanic, which is close to the 58 percent of Hispanic students who attend school in the district.

The big gap is between white and black students. White students make up 20 percent of DPS students but only 8 percent of those suspended. Conversely, black students make up only 15 percent of district students but comprised 32 percent of those who faced out-of-school suspensions last year.

The ratios for expulsions are similar. White students make up 10 percent of the pool, black students represent 30 percent and Hispanic students 56 percent.

Eldridge Greer, manager of psychological services in the district, said DPS is undergoing a philosophical shift in terms of how it handles discipline. Research and personal experience has shown that booting students out of school simply doesn’t change student behavior.

Instead, the district is embracing restorative justice programs and other techniques to resolve conflicts and to educate students about the impact of his or her actions and work with the student to make things right.

Expulsion figures for past three years

Click on charts to enlarge.

Denver’s goal is to become the first urban district to eliminate racial disparity in its expulsions and suspensions.

Denver is backed up by the passage last year of Senate Bill 46, also called the Smart School Discipline Law, which aims to curb the so-called “school to jail track” that critics say resulted from the adoption of zero-tolerance discipline policies a decade ago.

The district is moving in this direction so that “one bad afternoon doesn’t have to turn into a bad week or a bad year for a student,” Greer said.

DPS enrollment trends

Board member Jeannie Kaplan raised a concern about whether teachers are equipped to handle students who will now remain in the classroom.

Greer said all DPS teachers are offered de-escalation training to handle situations such as a student cursing at a teacher in front of other students.

“We want to give teachers tools to address student behavior without removals,” he said.

The district also plans to do a better job educating school communities about the reasons for the shift in policies, and providing more support to teachers who lack the tools or skills to deal with disruptive students.

Students caught with guns on school grounds still face automatic expulsion for one year, however.

And out-of-school and in-school suspensions remain an option for situations that put other students and school staff at risk, such as drug distribution or incidents involving weapons, robbery, bullying, assault, sex assault, indecent exposure, unlawful sexual contact, arson, explosives, witness intimidation, hazing and habitual disruption.

Greer pointed out that three Ds are not on the list: disrespect, defiance and disobedience.

“These three – while challenging – are one of most significant areas of disproportionality among students,” he said.

Simmons and Greer said those issues can be handled in alternative ways.

Board President Mary Seawell asked if the suspensions or expulsions are more prominent at certain schools or in certain parts of the city than in others.

“There is no concentrated evidence that any particular school or type of school is a driver for this type of disproportionality,” Greer said. “This is not a DPS-created issue. The difference is we’re not afraid of the data and our goal is to eliminate it.”

What's Your Education Story?

As the 2018 school year begins, join us for storytelling from Indianapolis educators

PHOTO: Dylan Peers McCoy/Chalkbeat
Sarah TeKolste, right, and Lori Jenkins at a Teacher Story Slam, in April.

In partnership with Teachers Lounge Indy, Chalkbeat is hosting another teacher story slam this fall featuring educators from across the city.

Over the past couple of years, Chalkbeat has brought readers personal stories from teachers and students through the events. Some of our favorites touched on how a teacher won the trust of her most skeptical student, why another teacher decided to come out to his students, and one educator’s call to ramp up the number of students pursuing a college education.

The event, 5:30 p.m. Thursday, Sept. 13, is free and open to the public — please RSVP here.

Event details:

5:30 p.m. to 7:30 p.m.
Thursday, Sept. 13, 2018
Tube Factory artspace
1125 Cruft St., Indianapolis, IN 46203
Get tickets here and find more on Facebook

School safety

Hiring more security officers in Memphis after school shootings could have unintended consequences

PHOTO: Jahi Chikwendiu/The Washington Post/Getty Images

Tennessee’s largest district, Shelby County Schools, is slated to add more school resource officers under the proposed budget for next school year.

Superintendent Dorsey Hopson earmarked $2 million to hire 30 school resource officers in addition to the 98 already in some of its 150-plus schools. The school board is scheduled to vote on the budget Tuesday.

But an increase in law enforcement officers could have unintended consequences.

A new state law that bans local governments from refusing to cooperate with federal immigration officials could put school resource officers in an awkward position.

Tennessee Education Commissioner Candice McQueen recently reminded school personnel they are not obligated to release student information regarding immigration status. School resource officers employed by police or sheriff’s departments, however, do not answer to school districts. Shelby County Schools is still reviewing the law, but school board members have previously gone on the record emphasizing their commitment to protecting undocumented students.

“Right now we are just trying to get a better understanding of the law and the impact that it may have,” said Natalia Powers, a district spokeswoman.

Also, incidents of excessive force and racial bias toward black students have cropped up in recent years. Two white Memphis officers were fired in 2013 after hitting a black student and wrestling her to the ground because she was “yelling and cussing” on school grounds. And mothers of four elementary school students recently filed a lawsuit against a Murfreesboro officer who arrested them at school in 2016 for failing to break up a fight that occurred off-campus.

Just how common those incidents are in Memphis is unclear. In response to Chalkbeat’s query for the number and type of complaints in the last two school years, Shelby County Schools said it “does not have any documents responsive to this request.”

Currently, 38 school resource officers are sheriff’s deputies, and the rest are security officers hired by Shelby County Schools. The officers respond and work to prevent criminal activity in all high schools and middle schools, Hopson said. The 30 additional officers would augment staffing at some schools and for the first time, branch out to some elementary schools. Hopson said those decisions will be based on crime rates in surrounding neighborhoods and school incidents.

Hopson’s initial recommendation for more school resource officers was in response to the school shooting in Parkland, Florida, that killed 17 people and sparked a wave of student activism on school safety, including in Memphis.

Gov. Bill Haslam’s recent $30 million budget boost would allow school districts across Tennessee to hire more law enforcement officers or improve building security. Measures to arm some teachers with guns or outlaw certain types of guns have fallen flat.

For more on the role and history of school resource officers in Tennessee, read our five things to know.

Sheriff’s deputies and district security officers meet weekly, said Capt. Dallas Lavergne of the Shelby County Sheriff’s Office. When the Memphis Police Department pulled their officers out of school buildings following the merger of city and county school systems, the county Sheriff’s Office replaced them with deputies.

All deputy recruits go through school resource officer training, and those who are assigned to schools get additional annual training. In a 2013 review of police academies across the nation, Tennessee was cited as the only state that had specific training for officers deployed to schools.