Report: School discipline numbers show bias against black students

Report: School discipline numbers show bias against black students
A school discipline report showed bias in punishment for black students, compared to white and Hispanic students, according to a report from KATV. (Source: KATV)

LITTLE ROCK, AR (KAIT/KATV) - A new report from state education officials shows that black students in the state’s school district receive punishment at a larger rate than white and Hispanic students, according to a report from Little Rock television station KATV.

The station looked at records from the Arkansas Department of Education to determine the rates.

“According to numbers reported by Arkansas schools, for every 100 black students, they receive 117 disciplinary referrals,” KATV reported. “That’s more than one disciplinary referral per student, Compare that to 100 white students, who receive 38 disciplinary referrals.”

University of Arkansas professor Dr. Johanna Thomas said she believes there is an issue with implicit bias and that schools have not responded appropriately to the issue.

“When you’ve got thirty students and this set curriculum, it’s easier to punish them than it is to ask questions,” Thomas said.

Arkansas Education Commissioner Johnny Key countered the issue is something that educators want to address.

“I wouldn’t call it racist. I think that there is an element of race that has come into play when you see disparities, but when you actually talk to the educators in those schools, they want to do better. They know how this impacts their communities,” Key told KATV.

Thomas said she believes broken trust is a key part of the equation, while state education board member Dr. Fitz Hill said the situation is systemic.

“When we suspend our kids, often times, that’s who is getting arrested and that’s who is creating a problem,” Hill said, noting the issue takes time. “When a person comes into an office, there’s no relationship. You’re dealing with just what happened and you want to fix it, and we have to get away from that.”

The station reported that a school in Stuttgart has worked to improve their discipline numbers.

Park Elementary School had 23 students who had the majority of the referrals, KATV reported.

Each of the students were given a mentor, as well as monthly rewards for good behavior, school officials said.

The program saw a 30% drop in the number of disciplinary problems during the school year, with a school official saying they are working on the issue.

“We are just trying to do a better job of figuring out the best way for those students to learn and what supports that we need to provide for them. We’re not perfect by any means, but I know that we are doing the work,” Principal Pam Dean said.

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