Toledo Public Schools’ expulsion rates decline, described as ‘racially skewed’Written by Caitlin McGlade | | firstname.lastname@example.org
Though some Toledo Public School (TPS) institutions received high grades on the annual state report card, the district as a whole continues to maintain higher expulsion rates than the five Ohio districts deemed most like Toledo’s.
In 2008 to 2009, 390 students were expelled, for a total of more than 10,600 days. More than 5,020 students received suspensions, missing school for a combined 38,646 days. A punishment qualifies as expulsion if the principal sentences the student to 11 or more days out of school.
Out of every 100 students in the 2008-09 school year, 1.6 got expelled and about 38 received out-of-school suspensions.
The number has steadily decreased, compared to the previous year’s 1.7 expulsions and 44 out of school suspensions per 100 students, according to an Ohio Department of Education (ODE) database. The 2008-09 school year recorded a year-to-year 20 percent decline in suspension days and an 18 percent drop in expulsion days.
“Over a period of time in the last three years those numbers have gone down,” Superintendent John Foley said. “We’ve done more in terms of educating our students and parents; we’ve tried to encourage the schools to use alternatives prior to suspension so if they have kids with chronic problems we try to help them.”
Advocates seek change
Out of the larger school districts in Ohio, Toledo has a higher expulsion rate than Akron, Cincinnati and Cleveland, but is lower than Dayton or Youngstown.
“For more than a decade, many of us have pointed out to TPS and asked them to address the high rates of suspensions,” said Steven Flagg, communications chairman of the Urban Coalition of Toledo. “In the end, if we don’t find ways to keep kids in school and learning, we will pay a far greater price given the direct and indirect costs of incarceration to our society.”
He said recently he has seen more cooperation to cut down suspension and expulsion rates, especially after school board members Darlene Fisher and Jack Ford made it their personal missions to improve the situation.
This school year, the district launched a new initiative called the Positive Behavioral Support Program. TPS’s Chief of Staff Lonny Rivera said this will encompass procedures teachers have used in the past few years with new ideas to change administrators’ and teachers’ mindsets from reactive to proactive.
“Many times, we react to students’ behavior, but we think it’s appropriate to take a proactive approach,” Rivera said. “Many times we’re dealing with the symptom, not the cause and we’re quick to deal out the discipline.”
This year, more dialogue between teachers, cooks, bus drivers, custodians and administration members will open so everyone will understand exactly what type of behavior is expected. Starting at the elementary level, teachers can participate in training to help them better understand how to deal with delinquent children and emphasize the need to physically demonstrate how to behave in the classroom, rather than posting rules or reading them to students, Rivera said.
The program will also instate a new data-collecting system that will track each child’s specific offense so the administration can analyze who has which problems and where they’ve occurred the most, he added.
“One thing we are doing is that we have to start looking at data,” Rivera said. “A lot of decisions are made on gut feelings.”
He said this year the administration will develop a group to study principal referral forms. When a child is suspended or expelled, the principal must document specific details about the students’ actions and the reason for the punishment, he added. Diversity training, however, is not mandatory and has not been in the past, he said.
Twila Page, the secretary of the African American Parents Association, said she has helped numerous students appeal suspensions and has noticed an “alarming discrepancy” in punishment given to black children versus white.
For every 100 white students, .7 were expelled and 15.8 were suspended during the 2008 to 2009 school year. For every 100 black students, 2.6 were expelled and 62 were suspended, according to ODE databases.
“I’m going to be very blunt — the blacker the school, the more suspensions you have,” Page said. “Black children are seen to be more disruptive, more disorderly, more unsafe; they drink more alcohol, have more weapons, they gamble, and white males and females don’t do that. We all know that’s not true. Kids are kids regardless of what color they are.”
Students can be expelled or suspended for truancy, fighting, vandalism, theft, possessing a weapon, tobacco, drugs or being disruptive, according to the state’s database. Page said too many students she has worked with have been punished for the broad “failure to follow directions” violation — and a discrepancy between races is apparent in this category as well.
Two hundred two black children were expelled in TPS last year for disobedient or disruptive behavior, compared to the 30 white students punished under the same violation, according to the ODE database.
The racial makeup for black and white students for the 2008-2009 school year was 45.5% black and 40.9% white.
Learning the rules
Page’s organization works with parents and students to educate them on the rules, their rights and how to advocate for their children. She said a lot of students she has helped were unclear on rules before they were suspended. Many students she has represented were suspended for two or three days because of dress code violations — which starts a habit of disobeying the rules, she said.
“When we started out, I always thought it was the high school student that would get expelled,” Page said. “We found out that it was the other kids in grade school — what does that teach a child when you’re taking his education away? They don’t have to give them the homework; they don’t have to teach them what they’ve missed when they get out of school; to me that just makes no sense.”
The junior high schools have the highest total number of students expelled — with 40 from East Broadway Middle School and Deveaux Jr. High School following close behind with 35 last year, according to Toledo Public School records. Waite Learning Community Elementary Schools tops off the elementary level with 279 students suspended from 2008 to 2009.
Fisher said she is confident that the Positive Behavioral Support program will help reduce the numbers but that she thinks the district still has a lot of work and cooperation to do.
“I think this has really been a big issue for us in the Toledo Public Schools compared to outlying schools, especially when we have such a large number of students our issues get blown up in public,” Fisher said. “We need to see the source of these problems and I don’t think as a district we are to that point yet.”