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OKC district improves some suspension numbers

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OKCPS has reduced its number of suspensions, but the district still disproportionately disciplines black students. [Chris Landsberger/The Oklahoman archives]
OKCPS has reduced its number of suspensions, but the district still disproportionately disciplines black students. [Chris Landsberger/The Oklahoman archives]

Oklahoma City Public Schools is suspending fewer students, but the district continues to disproportionately discipline black students, officials said Monday night.

In 2017-18, students missed 21,216 days of classroom instruction compared to 39,299 days in 2014-15. During the same four-year period, the number of long-term suspensions for "serious offenses" — between 11 and 45 days — dropped from 326 in 2014-15 to 79 in 2017-18.

"It is critically important that our kids are sitting in front of teachers every day," Chief of Staff Rebecca Kaye told the school board during a presentation on the district's equity plan. "They cannot learn if they are not in school."

That number, however, has climbed to 91 so far this year, Kaye said.

The district's office of school climate "is evaluating the slight uptick this year" to provide appropriate school support, she told the board.

Oklahoma's largest school district is being closely monitored by the U.S. Education Department's Office of Civil Rights, whose investigators concluded the district referred black students for discipline more than three times as often as white students during the 2014-15 school year.

Federal investigators reviewed a district audit of discipline practices at 14 middle and high schools during the 2013-14 and 2014-15 school years, and identified inconsistent and incomplete practices relating to record keeping, discipline and parent notification.In April 2016, the district resolved a nearly two-year-old federal discrimination complaint, agreeing to "engage in an extensive, in-depth process to correct disproportionate discipline by race." The district is completing the third year of a three-year improvement plan with the federal agency.

The duration of those suspensions — nearly double for students of color compared to white students prior to the investigation — has evened out over the past two years, the district reported.

White students were suspended an average of 3.25 days in 2017-18 compared to 3.44 days for Hispanic students, 3.64 days for black students, 3.78 days for American Indian students and four days for Asian students, data shows.

Kaye credited the implementation of new policies, procedures and practices for closing the gap "significantly," Kaye said.

"You can see that that gap has almost disappeared," she said.

However, the district continues to disproportionately suspend black students, who represented 46% of suspensions in 2012-13 and 45% of suspensions in 2017-18 while accounting for 22% of the district's enrollment.

"We have done a good job in reducing the number of suspensions, but our proportions have remained the same," Kaye said.

When board member Carrie Coppernoll Jacobs asked "how do you fix that problem?" Superintendent Sean McDaniel said "We are bringing "layers of support to all of our kids" through the district's Pathway to Greatness reorganization plan.

"We know that these numbers, if we don't correct the disproportionality by the time these kids are in the fourth grade, like anything else, they're not going to get better they're going to get worse," McDaniel said.

Tim Willert

Tim Willert is a native Californian with Oklahoma ties who covers K-12 education, including Oklahoma City Public Schools and the state Education Department. Before that he covered district, federal and appellate courts in Oklahoma County. Prior... Read more ›

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