RALEIGH, N.C., December 9, 2014 – Out-of-school suspensions in the Wake County Public School System (WCPSS) dropped 45 percent in the last five years, according to data released by the district yesterday. Although these numbers represent a positive shift to keep students in the classroom and out of the school-to-prison pipeline, they also demonstrate the persistence of huge racial and disability disparities in suspensions rates in the district and the need for more work to be done.
Since Legal Aid of North Carolina’s Advocates for Children’s Services (ACS) began its work five years ago to reduce suspensions and end the school-to-prison pipeline in Wake County, the total number of out-of-school suspensions in WCPSS has fallen from 20,244 in the 2009-10 school year to 11,205 in 2013-14—even as student enrollment rose over that period by 9.4 percent. The number of individual students suspended declined by 35 percent over the same five-year period. WCPSS made the announcement about the declining suspension rates in a press release at the Student Achievement Committee of the Board of Education meeting on Monday.
“We are thrilled by the decline in out-of-school suspensions and commend the district for its ongoing efforts to reduce the number of students being pushed out of school,” said Jennifer Story, an attorney for ACS. “However, we remain extremely concerned about the ongoing disparate push-out impact of district policies and practices on African-American students and students with disabilities, as well as the quality of some of the alternative settings in which students who would otherwise be suspended are placed.”
African-American students represent one-quarter of WCPSS students, but last year received over 60 percent of all suspensions. Similarly, students with disabilities represent about 13 percent of the WCPSS population, but were one-third of suspended students. ACS has also long raised concerns about the quality of Alternative Learning Programs such as the Second Chance Online Recovery for Education (SCORE) and other programs intended to decrease out-of-school suspension rates.
“These data make clear that much work remains to be done to remedy the discriminatory impacts of Wake County’s school discipline policies,” said Jason Langberg, supervising attorney at ACS. “The persistence of student and parent advocates that we have seen over the last five years will continue to be critical moving forward.”
Since 2009, Legal Aid of North Carolina has provided high-quality legal advice and representation for hundreds of Wake County families and trained thousands of students, parents, service providers and advocates. ACS has filed multiple state special education complaints and federal civil rights complaints on behalf of clients against WCPSS. In the past two years, ACS published a comprehensive report and produced a documentary detailing the school-to-prison pipeline in WCPSS.
“We’ve made wonderful progress, but still have a long way to go,” said Story. “To increase student achievement and equity, we must continue to be diligent about reducing suspensions, eliminating discipline disparities and ensuring the availability of high-quality alternatives. The district is heading in a very positive direction, and we are hopeful that that it will continue to work collaboratively with parents, students, and advocates to meaningfully end the school-to-prison pipeline in Wake County.”
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Legal Aid of North Carolina is a statewide, nonprofit law firm that provides free legal services in civil matters to low-income people in order to ensure equal access to justice and remove legal barriers to economic opportunity. Advocates for Children’s Services is a statewide project that works for education justice and an end to the school-to-prison pipeline through legal advocacy, community education, and collaboration.
Jennifer Story, Advocates for Children’s Services, 919-226-5921, firstname.lastname@example.org