Durango School District slows ‘school-to-jail’ trend

Disciplinary actions decrease over 3 years

Durango School District 9-R sharply reduced the percentage of students overall it suspended, expelled or referred to law enforcement from 2009-10 to 2012-13.

The reduction was even greater among Hispanic, black and Native American students.

These statistics were contained in a report released Friday by Padres & Jóvenes Unidos on how 179 school districts in Colorado are trying to avoid the school-to-prison pipeline. The report was the result of 2012 legislation known as the Smart School Discipline Law.

“We’ve seen tremendous gains in one year,” Daniel Kim, the chief author of the report, said by telephone. “But there is a long way to go.”

Although from 2009-10 to 2012-13 there was, overall, in the state, a 25 percent drop in expulsions, a 10 percent reduction in suspensions and 9 percent fewer referrals to law enforcement, in the past year, there was a 3 percent increase in law-enforcement referrals among Native Americans and an 8 percent increase among Afro-Americans, Kim said.

The goal of Durango 9-R discipline is to teach social norms and expectations, Superintendent Dan Snowberger said by email.

“When the only option you have is to suspend or expel, there is very little room for growth by students,” Snowberger said. “We have implemented many different programs to ensure that administrators have many tools in their tool boxes as behavior issues surface in our schools.

“As we have worked to close achievement gaps in our students of color and students from poverty,” Snowberger said, “the residual impact is a sensitivity to all and a realization that each individual child is unique and warrants focus and response.”

Durango School District 9-R has 4,575 students, 27 percent of whom are ethnic minorities.

In the three years covered in the report, suspensions dropped 37 percent overall and among ethnic minorities, 52.1 percent; expulsions fell 45.6 percent overall and 87.4 percent among students of color; referrals to law enforcement declined 18.6 percent overall and 89.6 percent among ethnic minorities.

In other area school districts:

Bayfield School District has 1,402 students, 20 percent of them youngsters of color.

In that district, suspensions fell 29.4 percent among all students, but among ethnic minorities there was a 12.9 increase in suspensions. No further numbers were included for the district.

Ignacio School District 11 JT has 718 students, 66 percent of them ethnic minorities.

In the Ignacio district, suspension of all students increased 2.1 percent but fell 32.9 percent among students of color; expulsions increased 11 percent overall and 5.1 percent among ethnic minorities; no statistics were given for referral to law enforcement.

The racial inequality index for the three districts showed that in Durango 9-R, a student of color was 23 percent more likely than a non-minority to be suspended, expelled or referred to law enforcement.

The corresponding rate in Bayfield was 89 percent. In Ignacio, ethnic minorities were 41 percent less likely than whites to be suspended, expelled or referred to law enforcement.

“Comparing results of the survey shows how different school districts in the same region can be,” Kim said.

Statewide, black students are almost four times as likely as white students to be targeted for one of the three disciplinary measures; Native American students are more than twice as likely, and Hispanics are almost twice as likely.

Comparing 2011-12 with 2012-13, suspensions were down 9 to 19 percent for all students, per 100 students; expulsions also were down 14 to 38 percent among all students, per 100 students; referral to law enforcement followed the same pattern – except among black students, where the rate increased 8 percent and among Native Americans, where the rate jumped 3 percent.

But the survey found that from 2011-12 to 2012-13, expulsions for blacks was 13 percent higher when compared to white-student expulsions and that referral of black students to law enforcement increased 22 percent when compared to white students; Native American expulsion rates were 4 percent higher than for white students and their rate for referral to law enforcement was 17 percent higher than for white students.

Statewide, 88 districts had no law-enforcement referrals, and 40 had referrals from 10 to 1,390; 88 districts had no expulsions, 28 had 10 to 182 expulsions; in 70 districts, ethnic minority students were not over-represented in expulsions, suspensions or referral to law enforcement.

“We are going to issue a report annually,” Kim said. “We want to involve parents, school officials, students and community members in the project.”

The Smart School Discipline Law advises against referring students to law enforcement and urges school districts to match punishment to offense.

It collects data on disciplinary incidents and tracks the information by race/ethnicity, age and gender, and increases training for school resource officers.

daler@durangoherald.com

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