Minneapolis Seems to Race on Reviewing Individual Suspensions

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In Minneapolis, public school officials are making major changes in the way certain segments of the student population are disciplined.  All suspensions of students of color that do not involve violence must now be reviewed by the superintendent’s office.

This comes in the midst of close attention being paid to the way Minneapolis public schools treat minority students. New information reveals that 10 times more black students have a chance of being sent home than white students – and Superintendent Bernadeia Johnson wants this to stop. Alejandro Matos of the Star Tribune writes that this will take place at the same time that district approves a settlement with the US Department of Education over the inconsistencies in the suspension treatment for black students.

“The only way I can think of doing that is to take those suspensions back to the individuals and try and probe and ask questions,” Johnson said Friday.

The school district is also lowering the number of police at its schools because of inconsistencies and questions about the manner in which schools have used police in disciplinary situations. Earlier this year, after a report in the Star Tribune disclosed that the number of suspensions for pre-kindergartners, kindergartners, and first-graders had risen dramatically, a moratorium was placed on suspensions for the youngest students in the district. It did, in fact, reduce suspensions by 50%.

Johnson expects that the racial suspension imbalance will be eliminated by 2020. Some are still not satisfied that enough is being done.

“In the long term, that is not the solution,” said Marika Pfefferkorn, with the Minnesota Minority Education Partnership. “The way to stop disproportionately is to do a moratorium.”

Pfefferkorn wants training for cultural competency for staff district-wide and a moratorium for all elementary school suspensions.

Teachers, for the most part, are not in agreement with officials concerning a ban. They say it will force them to deal with disruptive students who are jeopardizing the ability for other students to learn, especially when students have untreated mental health issues or behavioral issues.

Johnson said that her offices’ review of the suspensions will be a conversation, not a “grilling”. Another settlement requirement is that the district must, for the next three years, report the progress on reducing suspensions for students of color to the Office of Civil Rights in the US Department of Education.

Johnson also said that when the suspensions are sent to her office, they will try to “understand why the child was suspended so that she and her staff can intervene with teachers, student leaders, and help give them the targeted support they need.”

Derek Hunter, a contributor to The Daily Caller, says the steps to the elimination of the racial suspension gap will include: a 25% reduction in dis-proportionality by the end of this school year; 50% by 2016; 75% by 2017; and 100% by 2018.

Other parts of the voluntary agreement include: identifying why students are suspended; finding more alternatives to suspension; releasing clearer data to the community regarding suspensions; and reducing the number of police involved in school discipline incidents, says Tim Post of MPR News.

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