Study: Race, disability significant factors in Va. school suspensions

WASHINGTON —Virginia school systems have seen suspension rates level off after years of declines, according to a recent report from JustChildren based in Charlottesville.

But certain groups are far more likely to face suspension than others.

JustChildren researches school suspensions and expulsions and their effects on children later entering the justice system as youths or adults. The organization’s study has consistently found that despite overall decreases since 2010, African-American students and students with disabilities have experienced a higher percentage of suspensions and expulsions.

“Suspension hurts everyone. Suspended students are at a significantly greater risk of academic failure, dropping out, and becoming involved in the justice system,” said Angela Ciolfi, JustChildren’s legal director and co-author of the report. “Worse yet, suspension damages school climate, public safety, and the economy.”

The organization has been pushing schools across Virginia to reduce suspensions and advocate for alternative punishment methods for students.

Overall, suspension rates are declining

Statewide, about 8 percent of all students in grades 6 through 12 have been suspended at least once during the 2014–15 school year. Roughly 58 percent of suspensions were for non-violent acts, incidents ranging from cellphone use to defiance and insubordination.

School systems in Northern Virginia have generally issued fewer suspensions or expulsions compared to the rest of the Commonwealth.

Loudoun County had the lowest percentage in the region, with only 0.87 percent of students ever facing a suspension— the second lowest percentage in the state. Arlington and Manassas Park were also among the lowest, at 1.04 and 1.37 percent.

Stafford County had the highest percentage in Northern Virginia, with 5.65 percent of students seeing at least one suspension. Fredericksburg and Alexandria were also at the top of the list with 5.11 and 4.2 percent each.

The largest school system in the state, Fairfax County, had issued suspensions to only 1.43 percent of its student population. The second largest system, Prince William County, issued suspensions to 3.7 percent of its student population.

Minorities, students with disabilities over-represented

Compared to their peers, African-American students were 3.6 times more likely to be suspended than white students; students with disabilities were 2.4 times more likely to be suspended than students without disabilities.

Northern Virginia schools were about on par with the state averages.

Despite being relatively stringent with suspensions, Arlington African-American students were 8.75 times likely to be suspended than white students. The organization says 3.5 percent of African-American students in the schools system have been suspended at least once. The same could be said for only 0.4 percent of white students.

Alexandria and Fairfax County also saw discrepancies. African-American students in Alexandria were 6.82 times more likely to be suspended than their white counterparts, and the difference in Fairfax County was 4.87 times.

The smallest differences were seen in Spotsylvania, Stafford and Manassas. African-American students in Spotsylvania County were suspended 1.95 times more; African-American students in Stafford were suspended 2.38 times more; and African-American students in Manassas were suspended 3.06 times more.

In Stafford County, 10.39 percent of African-American students had at least one suspension in the 2014–15 school year, the highest in the region. Loudoun County suspended the lowest percentage of African-American students, just 2.46 percent of the population.

Students with disabilities suspended more than their ccounterparts

The rates aren’t much better for students with disabilities.

Despite having one of the lowest suspension rates in the entire state, Loudoun County had the largest discrepancy in suspensions for students with disabilities in Northern Virginia.

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