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Worcester Suspension Rate for Latino Students 10th Highest in Country

Friday, January 11, 2013


Worcester Public Schools had the 10th highest suspension rate in the nation for Latino during the 2009-2010 school year, according to a report from the Center for Civil Rights Remedies at the Civil Rights Project.

In "Opportunities Suspended: The Disparate Impact of Disciplinary Exclusion from School," authors Daniel J. Losen and Jonathan Gillespie found that 29.9 percent of Latino students in Worcester were suspended, the highest rate of any racial or ethnic group in the district.

Nationally, the suspension rate for Latinos is just 7 percent, or 1 in 14 students. Holyoke schools suspended 34.8 percent of Latino students in the 2009-2010 school year, the 4th highest rate in the nation. However, the Hartford, Ct. School District topped the list, where 44.2 percent of Latinos were suspended.

The rate of Black student suspensions in Worcester was slightly lower at 27.7 percent, followed by Native American/Alaskan Native students at 19.4 percent, white students at 16.8 percent, and Asian American students at 9.6 percent. The total district-wide suspension rate in Worcester schools was 22.7 percent.

"This certainly is a topic that anyone in education needs to be concerned about," said Worcester School Committee member and former principal John Monfredo.

"The bottom line with all of this is: what can we do to make sure our students are getting the best education possible? If they're not in school they're not learning."

According to the Civil Rights Project's report, over three million K-12 students nationwide are estimated to have lost class time due to suspension during the 2009-2010 school year. The findings were based off of Civil Rights Data Collection (CRDC) figures released by the U.S. Department of Education in March 2012.

"One thing that has become very clear through our work at the Civil Rights Project is that it is critically important to keep students, especially those facing inequality in other parts of their lives, enrolled in school," said Gary Orfield, co-director of the Civil Rights Project, in the report's Foreword. "This relates directly to the common and often highly inappropriate policy of punishing students who are already at risk of dropping out by suspending them from school."

Cultural Differences

"I think that there's a lot of cultural situations that happen with Latino students that are not well-understood," said Hilda Ramirez, assistant director at the Latino Education Institute at Worcester State University.

Latinos are the largest racial or ethnic group in the Worcester Public Schools, accounting for 38.4 percent of the district of 24,411 students in the 2011-2012 school year. White students account for 36.4 percent of the student body, and African American students represent 13.6 percent.

Ramirez noted that Latino students tend to be a little louder and more expressive in their interactions than students in other racial or ethnic groups. A teacher or authority figure may then correct the student in a way that makes them feel badly without even realizing it, and the student and adult may end up caught in a back-and-forth that can escalate quickly and result in negative consequences for the student.

"There's a tendency to escalate matters instead of de-escalate," she said.

But both teachers and students could stand to benefit from taking a step back from the situation and pulling students aside in private to talk to them about their behavior in a less emotionally charged situation.

"Those are the little cultural nuances that we need to understand. How do young people socialize? What is their youth culture?" Ramirez said. "Those are all teachable moments."

Solutions That Keep Kids in the Classroom

"The bottom line for us has really been to try to keep students in school in one respect or another," said Worcester School Committee member Brian O'Connell.

One of the main alternatives to disciplinary exclusion that Losen and Gillespie put forth in their report--and one that is already in effect in Worcester Public Schools--is the use of system-wide Positive Behavioral Interventions and Supports (PBIS), which focus on changing attitudes and policies surrounding behavioral issues in schools on both the student and teacher sides through a systemic and data-driven approach.

"We've had that program in place for a number of years. It works very well for us," said O'Connell. "The emphasis is on having behavior that is truly positive."

For more serious incidents, such as weapons offenses or assaults on teachers, Worcester works through the Central Massachusetts Collaborative, which has a number of alternative education sites in the region. O'Connell said that in all situations, an emphasis is placed on keeping students in an academic environment.

"We have never, to my knowledge, put a child totally out of school, but we will place the child in some academic environment that usually removes the child from his or her current classroom but keeps the child in school."

However, in cases when students do receive out-of-school suspensions, Ramirez said that Massachusetts does not require that educational alternatives be provided to the students during their time away. Students may end up drifting further from an educational environment without any supervision or recovery programs during their suspension.

"Thinking about this data should create a sense of alarm about this group of students and others experiencing high rates of suspension," Orfield continued. "Putting students who face serious challenges on a path that leads them to detach from school or cut the already weak ties that prevent them from dropping out is a misguided practice."

Ramirez noted that Worcester Superintendent Melinda Boone has worked to improve the in-school suspension rate, keeping students in touch with academic environments.

Monfredo also pointed to high absenteeism rates among the district's Latino population beginning in the early grades as another critical issue facing Worcester students. In kindergarten, 22.8 percent of Latino students were absent more than 10 percent of the school year, or more than 18 days. In middle and high school those numbers climb even higher, with 30 percent of Latino students absent more than 10 percent of the school year.

"Looking at how we can improve the quality of education for our students definitely needs to be addressed with parents and alerting them about situations," Monfredo said.

"What can we do to make sure that our children are getting an education?" 


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