Report examines race, gender disproportionality in Berkeley school district

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A report on race and gender disproportionality in student suspensions, absences and special education in the Berkeley Unified School District over the last three school years was presented to the school district Board of Education on Wednesday.

According to the report, the total number of chronic absences and suspensions are decreasing, but the percentage of black student suspensions is increasing. The overall enrollment in special education and the race and gender proportions of special education students have remained relatively unchanged over the past three years.

The district’s Berkeley Research, Evaluation and Assessment department conducted the analysis to measure the district’s progress in achieving its goals under the Local Control Accountability Plan, which include reducing the achievement gap between white and underrepresented-minority students.

The report found that black students, especially female black students, are suspended much more frequently than white students. It also found that the district needs to allocate more resources in order to close this gap.

School district board President Judy Appel said that the disproportionality of suspensions can affect underrepresented-minority students’ learning capacities and that the district must promote equity strategies to prevent systemic racism from affecting the learning environment.

“As we create a more vibrant and positive school climate, I think the incidents (of suspensions) go down,” Appel said.

In order to combat the race and gender disproportionalities, the school district policy subcommittee is revising the district’s discipline policy in order to get rid of willful defiance suspensions, reduce total suspensions and find effective alternatives to suspension.

Out of the total suspensions in grades K-12 in the 2014-15 school year, black students made up 323 of the 477 total suspensions, compared with 36 suspensions of white students.

Most suspensions were issued for incidents of violence. According to the report, the number of suspensions for violent offenses increased over the past three years from 349 in 2012-13 to 361 2014-15. Of the 361 students suspended for incidents of violence in the 2014-15 school year, 71 percent were black.

White students made up less than 10 percent of suspensions in all categories in the report except illicit drugs.

Josh Daniels, a school district board member, pointed out that the disproportionality in suspensions of black girls is notably worse than in those of black boys. The report states that 73 percent of all female suspensions were black students in the 2014-15 school year.

“When it comes to girls, we are almost only suspending African American girls,” Daniels said.

Appel believes that the race disproportionality in suspensions is not intentional. Instead, Appel said, the underlying reasons for the disproportionality in African American student suspensions in Berkeley — as well as other areas — have to do with systemic racism.

The school district board will reconvene Wednesday.

Contact Emma Soldon and Jason Tran at [email protected].