Discipline disparities among minority students persist in the Rochester school district.

According to preliminary discipline numbers from the 2018-2019 school year, black students were more than four times as likely to be referred to school offices for discipline as white students.

Black students made up about 39 percent of total discipline referrals in the district while making up about 14 percent of the total student body. Students who identify as two or more races made up about 10 percent of discipline referrals while accounting for less than 6 percent of the total student body.

English learning students and students who qualify for free or reduced lunch were also disciplined at a disproportionate rate.

The discipline rate among Hispanic students was down slightly to about 11.9 percent of referrals and more proportionate to their 10 percent representation in the total student body. Suspensions in the district were down 6 percent overall.

Karl Bakken, district executive director of human resources, presented the school board with discipline data from the 2018-2019 school year at Tuesday’s meeting.

The U.S. Department of Education’s Office of Civil Rights intervened in the school district after a five-year compliance review completed in 2015 revealed that black students at Rochester schools were being disproportionately disciplined.

Since then, the district has been working with the Minnesota Department of Human Rights in tracking the disparities and efforts to bring them down.

Michael Muñoz, Rochester schools superintendent, said those efforts include trauma-informed teaching and classroom strategies such as positive behavior interventions and supports.

Discipline disparities and rates varied by school and did not necessarily correlate to enrollment.

“To me, it’s the make-up of the students in the building but it’s also the adults in the building,” Muñoz said.

The adults create a culture to address students’ needs and respond to them, he said.

Principals attending the meeting to review the report stressed that most discipline cases involve a few students. Of the 19,950 students enrolled in the district for the 2018-2019 school year, 1,536 students — about 7.7 percent of the total enrollment — accounted for the district’s 4,076 referrals. More than half of the referrals involve 292 students — about 1.5 percent of enrolled students.

School principals attending the meeting said they knew of some students who received multiple referrals. In those cases, school administrators and teachers are developing plans to address the students’ needs.

“They know them right away, and they have plans in place,” said Chris Lingen, director of elementary and secondary education.

Jean Marvin, school board member, asked if students of different ethnicities are being included in curriculum and programming in the school.

“What stories and what voices are missing from curriculum?” Marvin asked, adding that the district should continue to recruit teachers of different ethnic backgrounds.

For some buildings, portions of discipline data stood out. Churchill Elementary School saw discipline referrals more than triple from the 2017-2018 school year. Black student discipline referrals there jumped from 5 in 2017-2018 to 56 in 2018-2019. Referrals for white students there jumped from 32 to 89.

"This is one slide that made us talk to our cabinet and administrators and say we need to dig into this,” Muñoz said.

“Some of these numbers are not good,” said Jean Marvin, school board member. “What is happening in that building?”

Some numbers showed multi-level approaches to discipline in some school buildings.

John Adams Middle School had significantly more students with office referrals compared to the other middle schools but had similar totals for suspensions. Lingen said that showed school administrators were engaging students and not just disciplining students to the point where they miss instruction time and school days.

“It’s more about their learning in the classroom,” Lingen said.

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John joined the Post Bulletin in May 2018. He graduated from the University of Iowa in 2004 with degrees in Journalism and Japanese. Away from the office, John plays banjo, brews beer, bikes and is looking for other hobbies that begin with the letter “b.”