Last month, research professor James Huguley of the Center on Race and Social Problems at the University of Pittsburgh’s School of Social Work presented a broad report showing Black students in Allegheny County schools are suspended, on average, seven times more than non-Blacks.
That’s nearly two points higher than the already disparate 5-to-1 state average. And while there were mind-blowing suspension rates, like the 95 per 100 students in the Sto-Rox school district for 2012-2013—which dropped to 65 per 100 in the 2015-2016 school year, there were districts like Riverview, which had 2 suspensions per 100 students in 2012-2013, and 1 per 100 in 2015-2016.
In total, the report looked at 51 Allegheny County school districts and several charter schools, noting that out-of-school suspensions are detrimental to the educational process, to the schools, and most importantly, to the children.
“Suspensions are especially harmful to children in poverty,” said Huguley, lead author of the Just Discipline report. “Their higher prominence in urban schools compounds the challenges facing our most vulnerable students.”
Huguley said the highest rates of Black suspension, 8.5-to-1, appear in districts with between 21 and 40 percent Black students; at 20 percent or less, the disparity is 4-to-1; where Blacks comprise 41 to 60 percent of the population, the rate is 2.4-to-1; from 61 to 80 percent, the ratio is 2.4-to-1, and above 81 percent the rate drops to 1.3-to-1.
And while there were some correlations between Black suspensions and poverty or urbanity, they did not always hold. North Hills, for instance, suspended Blacks at a rate of 6.9-to-1, while North Allegheny’s rate was 0.9-to-1. Duquesne City Schools was 0.7-to-1.
[pullquote]“Suspensions are especially harmful to children in poverty. Their higher prominence in urban schools compunds the challenges facing our most vulnerable students.”
JAMES HUGULEY, PhD
University of Pittsburgh Assistant Professor[/pullquote]Many of the suburban districts, like North Allegheny, Huguley said, suspend so few students that their statistics are a little misleading.
“Duquesne, however, suspends a high number of students. It’s an interesting trend and we can’t really explain what’s going on there,” he said. “But that’s why we put this report out, so districts themselves would look at it and take action.”
From his perspective, Huguley said Manchester Academic Charter School and Urban Academy Charter School are showing the most positive signs. Their Black to non-Black suspension rates are 1.2-to-1 and 1.3-to-1, respectively.
“On paper, they are looking the best and I know from conversations with folks at Manchester that they are focused on building the relational components that improve school culture,” he said.
“It’s harder to do at the district level, but Pittsburgh Public Schools has done a lot of work on this and had a big reduction for the year just prior to the ones we studied. Basically, the schools that have put the time and energy into this work are seeing results. And across the county, the overall suspensions are being reduced and so is the disparity between Blacks and non-Blacks. So, there is good news.”
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