Although less than 1% of students in Rochester Public Schools were referred to law enforcement this past year, there were still racial disparities in that small group.

The Rochester School Board reviewed data Tuesday regarding how often law enforcement officers responded to student violations throughout the year. In total, there were 220 referrals to law enforcement for the 2019-20 school year.

Even though students were attending class through distance learning from mid-March through the end of the year, there was a 16% increase in the number of referrals to law enforcement compared to the year before.

For the 2019-20 year, 29% of the referrals to law enforcement were for white students, which as a demographic accounted for more than 50% of the student body of 18,296.

Black students, which make up 14.4% of the student body, accounted for 48% of the law enforcement referrals. Also, the percentage of referrals to law enforcement for Black students jumped nearly 10% from the year before.

While Black students received a disproportionate number of referrals, that was not necessarily the case for some other students of color.

Hispanic students made up 10.9% of the student body and accounted for 11% of the referrals to law enforcement. That's a decrease from the year before when it had been 14.3%.

Asian students made up 9.6% of enrollment, but accounted for only 2% of the referrals to law enforcement.

The fact that some students of color account for a disproportionate percentage of violations in Rochester Public Schools is not a new issue. In 2018, the School District approved an agreement with the Minnesota Department of Human Rights to track the issue.

RPS Superintendent Michael Muñoz briefly talked about some of the measures the district has been taking to try to address the racial disparities. He said the district has been organizing an “equity leadership team” and has been working with the Midwest and Plains Equity Assistance Center.

“The goal of that is trying to be more consistent on how we handle different behaviors across the district,” Muñoz said.

The entirety of those referrals to law enforcement was for only 182 students, which is just less than 1% of the total student body of 18,296 students.

Areferral to law enforcement does not necessarily mean a student would be charged with a crime.

“Just because law enforcement submits a request to charge a student, it still ultimately comes down to the county attorney if they were going to go ahead and charge that student,” Muñoz said.

In fact, of the 220 referrals to law enforcement, only 80 were passed on to the county prosecutor’s office for potential charges. That number also includes students who may have been cited for traffic violations in the school parking lots.

Among the three public high schools, Mayo had the highest number of situations where law enforcement recommended charges, coming in at 15. John Marshall and Century both had 11. The gap between the three schools was slightly less than the year before when law enforcement recommended charges twice as often at Mayo as they did at Century.

In addition to each of the high schools, the school district provided information on each of the middle schools as well.

Although Tuesday's discussion referenced law enforcement generally, there have been some questions about whether police officers should have a permanent presence in the school buildings, which they currently do.

School Board members referenced the possibility of having a study session to delve deeper into the topic of law enforcement and the use of school resource officers. No date for that meeting has been set.