Black students in Maryland are consistently suspended from school and arrested on school grounds at higher rates than any other racial group.
The Maryland State Board of Education presented a research report on school suspension and arrest rates at its board meeting on Tuesday. Although teachers cannot suspend students for insubordination, some continue to do so, state Superintendent of Schools Karen B. Salmon said.
“The data is absolutely, unbelievably disproportionate for our Black and Brown children,” Salmon said. She later described the results as “horrendous”.
In 2017, 1,700 black students from pre-kindergarten through second grade in Maryland were suspended at least once, while 490 white students were suspended in the same year.
The state passed a law in 2017 prohibiting suspensions and expulsions for students in second grade or below, unless there is “an imminent threat of serious harm to other students or staff that cannot be reduced or eliminated through interventions.”
The number of Black students who were suspended declined by half in the next year. However, Black students continue to be disproportionately suspended, more than any other race.
In 2018, 800 Black students were suspended, relative to the 200 white students suspended in the same year.
Overall, the total number of suspended students in pre-kindergarten to second grade has dropped by half since 2017. Three-quarters of the offenses were for attacks, threats and fighting. About one quarter of suspensions were from disruptions and disrespect. And a small fraction were due to more serious offenses like carrying weapons and arson.
The data did not include students who were sent home from school without a formal suspension, suggesting that the number of students who were effectively suspended may be even higher.
Baltimore City and Dorchester and Wicomico counties had the largest decreases in suspension rates since 2017.
Arrests made on school grounds for students in kindergarten to 12th grade have also been the highest for Black students since 2015, state officials said. Kent County reported the highest arrest rates overall.
Clarence Crawford, a board member from Prince George’s County, said what troubles him the most is that none of these results is new or surprising.
“We keep coming back every year with the same thing,” he said. “I just find that absolutely unacceptable.”
If the state keeps reporting the same results year after year, the current pattern of discipline will become the norm, Crawford warned.
“We are going to fall into the trap of ‘well, OK, children of color, we expect to see them get locked up, we expect to see poor kids do poorly,’” he said. “This cannot be the norm.”
It is going to require more than just tweaking the rules to meaningfully address this reoccurring problem, education leaders said. A successful intervention must involve having uncomfortable conversations and giving local school systems more flexibility on rules so they can experiment with new and creative solutions to the disproportionate rates of suspensions and arrests for Black students, Crawford said.
Vermelle Greene, a board member from Charles County, told her colleagues that she has created a task force on “achieving academic equity and excellence for Black boys.”
The task force will be made up of educators who have demonstrated commitment and success with educating Black boys, Greene said.
For the last 13 years, the test scores of Black boys have remained at the bottom in Maryland while the suspension and expulsion rates are consistently highest compared to other ethnic and racial groups.
“My teeth just grit every time I see over and over those test scores, and I am tired,” Greene said. “This is a way to really treat the problem and stop running around and throwing money at the symptoms.”