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RPS discipline disparities persist

The discipline disparity among racial minorities in Rochester schools remains. Total discipline referrals for the first semester of the 2018-2019 school year are up district-wide.

Mark Schleusner mug
Mark Schleusner
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The discipline disparity among racial minorities in Rochester schools remains. In some categories, the difference has widened.

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

Total discipline referrals are up district-wide, from 1,941 in the first semester last school year to 2,209 over the first semester this school year.

The discipline disparity for the district’s African American students widened. In the first semester of 2017-2018, 768 African American students made up 39.6 percent of the district’s discipline referrals while African Americans represent 14 percent of the total student enrollment.

In the first semester this year, 921 African American students received discipline referrals, accounting for 41.7 percent of discipline referrals.

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Referrals are up most sharply for high school students. Bakken said that’s because of increased use of e-cigarettes and vape pens. The devices deliver nicotine aerosol to users. Suspensions for nicotine or other drug violations rose from 12 last year to 114 this year.

The persistent racial disparities in disciplinary actions had some school board members questioning whether enough actions are being taken to address the issue or if the actions being taken are adequate.

"How long before we say, ‘Hey, this program isn’t the fix the district needs and we need to do something different?’" Mark Schleusner asked after the presentation.

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.

One approach the district has implemented is to train teachers in classroom behavior management. Techniques include establishing behaviors that are expected from students, using nonverbal communication and rewarding good behavior from students. It is known as "positive behavior interventions support."

District officials say the tactics are meant to cut down on overall disciplinary incidents.

Superintendent Michael Muñoz asked for patience in assessing the results.

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"To expect a quick turnaround from that two years of work is not realistic," Muñoz said.

Muñoz said discipline incidents in classrooms with teachers trained in the new techniques are down, but didn’t offer the board specific data.

Leaders of the Community Focus Team, an advisory task force formed to get public input about the district’s response to the discipline inequalities, attended the meeting. They asked the board to let them continue their efforts and asked to change the name of the task force to Racial Equity Advisory Team. The new name more accurately describes the group’s role.

The group also asked for autonomy to create social media events. Using conventional school district channels can cause the task force’s events and messages to get lost, said Carl Eric-Gentes. Conventional communications don’t always reach marginalized groups, he added.

"Our responsibility is to create events to go to them," Carl Eric-Gentes said.

The school board will vote whether to approve the name change at the next regular meeting in March.

Rochester Public Schools discipline referrals are up nearly 14 percent from last year, and a disproportionate share of those continue to be with minority students.

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41.7%

Share of referrals for African American students

14%

Share of student population that is African American

81ae301660b7a5d1bc471ae1242d9d35.jpg
Michael Muñoz

Related Topics: EDUCATION
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