Survey: 2 local districts have highest suspension rates of Black students in the state

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ELK GROVE, Calif. (KTXL) — A recent survey and the president of the Black Youth Leadership Project are exposing two of Sacramento’s biggest school districts for having the highest suspension rates of Black students. 

A 2019 study by the Black Minds Matter Coalition found Elk Grove Unified School District suspended more students who were Black than any other district in California. The year before, it was the Sacramento City Unified School District.

Loreen Pryor, the president and CEO of the Black youth leadership project said she has seen suspensions and unfair treatment happen far too often within both school districts.

“I’ve been at the different tables, we’ve proposed solutions, we’ve been rebuffed at every turn,” Pryor told FOX40. “There’s an inequitable way in which they’re viewing our students.”

Pryor said most of the punishments go to Black males.

“I think the biggest misconception is we don’t believe Black children should be punished or disciplined, and that is untrue,” she said.

Two concerned EGUSD parents explained how their 12-year-old daughter was banned from the school locker room.

“Our daughter calls us frantically, in tears because she was pulled into VP’s office again, schedule was changed, she was banned from the locker room because the same alleged eighth grader said she was looking around,” said parent Heather Morris Washington.

Heather and Charles Washington couldn’t believe it the first time when they heard their Katherine Albiani Middle School honor roll student was in trouble. They felt the punishment for the minor incident was far too severe.

“She would have to change in the bathroom or miss PE and lose credit,” Heather Morris Washington said.

They said things only got worse when their daughter couldn’t change in the full bathroom and was forced to change on the blacktop outside, in public view. 

“The principal showed no empathy toward our daughter having to change outside,” the girl’s mother said. “Her response was, ‘Why didn’t she use the bathroom?’”

EGUSD sent FOX40 a statement Thursday in response to the survey’s findings.

Elk Grove Unified recognizes and accepts the challenge of addressing disproportionate discipline in our schools, and we acknowledge the 2018-19 data in the ‘Suspending Our Future” report that highlights the large total number of suspensions for Black students in Sacramento County and in Elk Grove Unified specifically. Concern and action to address the disproportionality of exclusionary discipline including suspensions is a primary focus for our District.

We understand that we have a large population of students who identify as Black and African American, and while our suspension rate may be lower than other Districts on a percentage basis given the size of our District, we still have much work to do in policy, practice, and providing needed professional development to significantly reduce the suspension of Black and African American students in our schools.

We also have much work to do to realize the District’s vision of eliminating the disproportionate impact of exclusionary discipline on students who identify as Black/African American in our schools.

Our schools and District staff review exclusionary discipline data each month with a specific focus on students who identify as Black/African American. Analysis is being done at the individual student level to analyze student behavior, antecedents to behavior, adult behavioral response, and resulting actions with a strong emphasis on alternatives to suspension and restorative practices.

We are working on a procedural and mindset shift from discipline as a punitive consequence to engaging students, families and staff in educating the whole child academically, behaviorally and socially emotionally.

Elementary and secondary school administrators regularly engage in incident analysis to calibrate responses and broaden best practices of alternatives to exclusionary discipline and using disciplinary situations as opportunities for students, parents and staff to learn and strengthen relationships.

The Board of Education receives mid and end of year detailed exclusionary discipline reports. These reports include detailed data sets, and analyses of actions being taken to reduce and ultimately eliminate disproportionality.

Elk Grove Unified School District

The Washingtons and Pryor said they believe there needs to be a better vetting process, as well as communication and empathy regarding the effects extreme punishments have on students of color.

“She’s having a lot of anxiety. We have to get her counseling now,” Heather Morris Washington said.

“It’s hard to convince a kid that they’re worthy when the adults that are in positions of power do everything they can to tell them that they’re not,” Pryor said.

Pryor said she has a meeting with SCUSD’s superintendent Thursday night to talk to him about the district’s ongoing issue with excessive disciplinary action toward Black students, as well as an instance in which a teacher said a racist word in class.

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