Jay Rey, Buffalo News, December 9, 2018
When it comes to school discipline, Buffalo suspends students at a higher rate than any of the large urban districts in New York State.
Not only that, but black students in Buffalo are more than twice as likely to be suspended than their white classmates. Most susceptible are black males in the city’s high schools.
But those inequities go far beyond Buffalo.
Across the rest of Erie County, for example, black students make up a small percentage of school enrollment, but account for more than one-fifth of the suspensions.
That’s according to a new report from a statewide coalition trying to shed a spotlight on the racial disparities in how districts across the state impose out-of-school suspensions.
The report, being released Monday by the New York Equity Coalition, underscores the research that shows black students nationwide are being suspended at far greater rates than white students and that there needs to be more alternatives to the traditional punitive model of school discipline.
“When we look at the statewide data, we see an extraordinary difference in how schools impose out-of-school suspensions on black students and white students and this is important because an out-of-school suspension means the loss of valuable instruction time,” said Ian Rosenblum, executive director of the Education Trust-New York.
Buffalo Superintendent Kriner Cash applauded the watchdog group. He called this a long-standing justice issue in education.
Suspension rates differ
The Education Trust, a non-profit that advocates for students of color and low income, is a member of the equity coalition, which also includes parent, business, education and civil rights groups. It analyzed state data that showed the number of students who were suspended at least once during the 2016-17 school year.
Some of the findings:
- Buffalo had the highest overall suspension rate when compared to its peers around the state — Rochester, Syracuse and Yonkers. Nearly 14 percent of students in Buffalo received at least one suspension.
- Buffalo is twice as likely to suspend black students than white students. Nineteen percent of black students had at least one suspension, compared to roughly 9 percent of whites. The suspension rate for black students in Buffalo also was the highest when stacked up against Rochester, Syracuse and Yonkers. In New York City, the overall suspension is lower because of how the district imposes out-of-school suspensions, but the suspensions are also racially disproportionate.
- Black male high school students are suspended at a higher rate than any other group of students. That’s particularly true for Buffalo. Outside New York City, 19 percent of black high school students received at least one suspension. In Buffalo, it was 30 percent.
- The racial inequity is even more stark outside of Buffalo. Across the rest of Erie County, black students made up only 5 percent of the enrollment, but accounted for 21 percent of the suspensions.
“It’s not just about Buffalo,” Rosenblum said. “Outside Buffalo, in Erie County, we see stunning disparities in how school districts impose suspensions.”
The school district, however, has gotten some push-back from the Buffalo Teachers Federation, which complained last year that bad classroom behavior was receiving little to no consequences.
Teachers say the training hasn’t been comprehensive enough and there’s not enough time in the day to institute it faithfully, according to Philip Rumore, BTF president. The union, instead, called for a substantial increase in the number of school counselors, social workers and psychologists.
“If there are a disproportionate number of students being suspended — and there probably are — then we have to look deeper at why they are being suspended and work to solve the problems that are causing their suspension,” Rumore said. “Just saying it’s because of race doesn’t really do the issue justice.”