Black, Hispanic students disproportionately suspended in Arlington schools, county says

Black, Hispanic and students with disabilities in Arlington, Virginia, public schools were disproportionately suspended during the last school year, according to a report from the school system’s Office of School Climate and Culture.

Gradis White, director of school climate and culture, told the school board last week that the county had disproportionality in suspension rates based on race/ethnicity, students with disabilities and English language learners during the 2021-22 school year.

The trends are consistent across grade levels, he said. At the elementary school level, African American students make up 10% of the overall population but account for 30% of all suspensions, he said; Hispanic students are 27% of the population but account for 30% of suspensions.

African American middle school students are 10% of the school population but account for 30% of the suspensions, White said. Hispanic middle school students are 28% of the population but account for 46% of all suspensions.

Elementary school students with disabilities make up 14% of the school population but account for 56% of school suspensions.

School board members said that while the data is alarming, the school system is taking steps to address some of the challenges outlined in last week’s presentation.

“This needs to be everybody, every single day, ensuring that we are using the best, most responsible practices with our students,” said Vice Chair Cristina Diaz-Torres, “that we are building those relationships, that we’re getting to know them as humans by name, strength and need, ensuring that they’re getting what they need, so that we can keep them in the classroom and give them the skills to engage with whatever conflict they might have preventively.”

The school system, White said, may need additional implicit bias and cultural wellness training, “just so we can ensure that our staff members and our teachers, including our school leaders, are aware of some of the issues that our students are facing.”

In light of the findings, White said suspension data will be reviewed every quarter, and added that his office has been doing 20 school site visits peer week and has reached 88 schools over the last six months.

“How we address the disproportionality is we do preventive work,” White said.

The Office of School Climate and Culture is also recommending $50,000 be allocated for trainings in the fiscal 2024 budget, and that additional funding be used for two student climate and culture specialists and one trauma informed care specialist that would work in the Office of School Support.

Behaviors that can result in suspension vary, but can include things like disruptive or unsafe behaviors, disruptive use of phones or tablets, smoking, verbal abuse and sexual harassment. A full list is outlined in the school system’s code of conduct.

Last month, a review of the Fairfax County Public Schools special education program found students with disabilities are disproportionately suspended compared to other students.

More of the Arlington report’s findings are available online.

Scott Gelman

Scott Gelman is a digital editor and writer for WTOP. A South Florida native, Scott graduated from the University of Maryland in 2019. During his time in College Park, he worked for The Diamondback, the school’s student newspaper.

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