Durham Public Schools to hold community meetings on suspension rates

jalexander@newsobserver.comOctober 28, 2013 

Durham Public Schools will hold three public discussions in December to address high rates of suspensions and discipline of black and disabled students.

School district spokeswoman Chrissy Pearson said the meetings follow up on concerns that parents have brought to the school board. All community members will be welcomed to share their perspectives.

The first meeting will be held from 10:30 a.m. to noon Dec. 7 at the Staff Development Center, 210 7 Hillandale Road. The second will be from 6:30 to 8 p.m. at Northern High School, 117 Tom Wilkinson Road, and the third will be from 6:30 to 8 p.m. Dec. 10 at Southern High School, 800 Clayton Road.

Superintendent Eric Becoats declined to answer questions after last week’s school board meeting.

“It’s been a long day,” he said, voice rising as he walked away. “I’m just trying to get to my office.”

The school district has been under criticism for high suspension rates of black and disabled students.

Advocates for Children’s Services filed a complaint with the U.S. Department of Education’s Office of Civil Rights in April, saying the Durham Public Schools suspends black and disabled students at disporportionate rates.

According to the complaint, 17 percent of disabled students were suspended in 2009-10, versus 8.4 percent of non-disabled students; 14.1 percent of black students were suspended versus 3.3 percent of white students.

The complaint remains under investigation.

Last week Legal Aid of North Carolina announced a settlement in a separate complaint filed with the state Department of Public instruction involving students with disabilities.

The Durham Public Schools said it would improve services for middle school and high school students with disabilities who have been suspended by starting a full-day intervention program by Nov. 4. Students will be able to work on assignments from their base schools so they don’t fall behind.

“It’s good that Durham Public Schools are acknowledging that they have a problem,” said Mark Trustin, a Durham attorney who represents families of students suspended from public schools across the Triangle.

He recommends Durham adopt a program similar to the Boomerang Program in the Chapel Hill-Carrboro City Schools, an alternative to suspension program for middle school and high school students, disabled and non-disabled.

Deborah Pitman, DPS assistant superintendent of student, family and community services, said the district wants to hear the community

“Schools don’t work in isolation,” she said. “It’s together that we’re going to reach solutions and resolutions and really come up with support and creative outcomes for our children and youth.”

“The purpose of the community conversation is really for us to listen and learn and hear from our constituents,” Pitman said. We really are looking forward to that and hearing a broader perspective.”

Alexander: 919-932-2008

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