School Suspension and Racism, Is there a Link

School Suspensions Across Cape Cod

Most schools suspend fewer than state average

By Walter Brooks

“Eyes on the Cape” investigators turn their spyglass on school suspension stats.

Following recent assertions of racism in school discipline by members of the Mashpee Wampanoag tribe, our “Eyes on the Cape” team decided to pan their spyglass across our school districts to see how wide-spread student suspensions are here on the Cape. 

While the Massachusetts Department of Elementary and Secondary Education (DESE) overall school statistics are not broken down by race, a wide picture of school suspensions seemed the best place to start building a baseline. 

This information is part of what the state calls its “indicators” report, which profiles school districts by attendance, in-school suspensions (when a student comes to school but must remain in a separate disciplinary room under supervision), out-of-school suspensions (when the student to removed from the school), retention (i.e. students who repeat a grade) and truancy.

Consistent attendance percentages

See the detailed chart for Attendance Discipline by town at the bottom.With a state average of 94.7 percent attendance, the Cape’s schools rate fairly well.  With 94.6 percent attendance the Brewster elementary school district boasts the Cape’s highest attendance rate while Provincetown ranks lowest at 92.2 percent.

Wild Variance in Suspensions, Nauset  zero percent, Cape Cod Tech 19 percent

In school suspensions affect 3.5 percent  of students state-wide.  Here on the Cape the four elementary districts of the Nauset Region (Brewster, Eastham, Orleans and Wellfleet) report zero in-school suspensions along with Truro, Sturgis Public Charter and Mashpee.  Falmouth had the highest number of in-school suspensions at 239 and Cape Cod Regional Technical High School in Harwich had the highest percentage at a shocking 18.9 percent. 

Out-of-school suspensions (OSS) are generally issued for more severe infractions or for “repeat offenders”.  This type of suspension is considered a “last resort” since the child ends up missing days of instruction while barred from the school.  Once again the four Nauset elementary districts reported zero suspensions.  Chatham, Mashpee and Truro also reported no out-of-school suspensions. 

The highest number of OSS is found in Barnstable, where 248 students were sanctioned.  Percentage-wise, Cape Tech again led the group with 8.8 percent of their pupils receiving out-of-school suspensions.

Mashpee is the only district with a high school that reported no in-school and no-out-of-school suspensions.

Retentions and Truancy

With 103 retentions Barnstable leads the Cape in both number and percentage points (2.8).  Most Cape districts fall far below the state-wide retention rate of 2.1 percent.

Only two towns, Bourne and Sandwich report truancies.  We assume the other towns must have some truancy issues, especially a large district like Barnstable or Dennis-Yarmouth.  Perhaps the other districts weren’t required to submit truancy reports.

Mashpee Mystery

It is surprising to see the state reporting zero suspensions of any kind in Mashpee for 2010-2011.  From the words attributed to members of the Mashpee Indian Education Parent Committee, it sounded like the school might be rife with suspensions, unjust or otherwise.

In order to gain a better insight into the concerns of the Indian Education Parent Committee, we left a message at the Mashpee Wampanoag Tribe’s Indian education office Tuesday afternoon requesting a copy of the report cited at the parent meeting which said Native American students had an average of nine disciplinary actions per student while non-native students had an average of 1.45 per student.  While our call was not returned within twenty-four hours, we will publish that report as soon as it is made available to us.

When is School Discipline Racist?

Attributing racism to school disciplinary measures is sometimes a difficult task.  Ideally, every school endeavors to sanction all students the same way when they commit the same offense with the same discipline history. 

Most would agree that a blatant case of racism is when a school gives a Caucasian child detention for fighting but gives an in-school suspension to an Hispanic child with exactly the same fighting offense.  What about a hypothetical case where there are more Native American kids suspended for fighting because more Native American kids are actually getting in fights at school? 

There the hair-splitting commences, as one researches what is driving the hypothetical Native American children to get in fights – were they bullied into a fight by racist classmates, were they responding to a racist culture at their school that boiled over into fisticuffs, or were they just a meaner group of kids?

As we begin our examination of school discipline on the Cape we invite participation from our readers.  If you are a parent, teacher or school administrator who would like to write an op-ed on the topic or take part in a confidential interview, we would love to receive your email to [email protected]

We look forward to receiving the “Mashpee report” and will bring it to you as soon as it lands in our mailbox.

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