PORTSMOUTH — Portsmouth public schools last year suspended black students more than five times as often “as would be expected based on their school population,” according to a report issued this week by the Rhode Island affiliate of the American Civil Liberties Union (ACLU).
The ACLU’s “Blacklisted: An Update” report found that overall, Rhode Island’s public schools last year disproportionately suspended black students at the highest rates in nine years. White students, meanwhile, were suspended at record low rates, says the ACLU.
“Like black children, Hispanic students remained severely over-suspended, with these disparities reaching all the way to the lowest grades. In addition, students generally — including elementary school children — were given out-of-school suspensions at alarming rates for minor disciplinary infractions,” states the report.
Black students represent about 2.4 percent of the student body in the Portsmouth public schools, but they accounted for about 13.3 percent of the students suspended last year, according to the report. As for Hispanics, they make up about 3.3 percent of the student population but represented about 11.4 percent of the students who were suspended, the report states.
“Portsmouth public schools last year suspended black students 5.56 times as often as would be expected based on their school population and suspended Hispanic students 3.41 times as often as expected. By comparison, white students in Portsmouth were suspended 1.05 times as what would be expected,” the report states.
Contacted Tuesday, School Committee Chairman David Croston said the committee needs to take the ACLU report seriously.
“We will review the statistics,” Mr. Croston said. “We have reached out to (the R.I Department of Children Youth & Families) this year to discuss how we can transition group home participants better into our high school, (which) I hope will help in discipline.”
He added, “I think the Portsmouth School Committee needs to look at its hiring practices and we need to do a better job of attracting a more representative faculty that best represents every ethnicity that would be in our population.”
Asked whether he thinks the relatively small percentage of black and Hispanic students in the Portsmouth school system may have skewed the numbers reported by the ACLU, Mr. Croston replied: “This begs for us to look at our practices and the statistics underlining the suspensions. It’s too easy to say that, because of our socioeconomic makeup, this whole thing can easily be explained away. I actually believe it’s our duty irrespective to where our students are coming from that we have a better balance.”
The School Committee, Mr. Croston said, needs to look at addressing “why there is such a disparity in the ethnic makeup in our disciplinary action.”
The “Blacklisted” report is a followup to one the ACLU issued in June 2013, which examined eight previous years of suspension data.
“But the latest statistics demonstrate that the inappropriate and discriminatory use of out-of-school suspensions — even at the elementary school level — continues unabated across Rhode Island,” the new report states.