DURHAM — New state reports show a decrease in the dropout rate in the Durham Public Schools last year, but also show a disproportionate number of black students still being suspended.
Black students in Durham Public Schools made up 80 percent of all students who served short-term suspensions in 2012-13, yet comprise 50.7 percent of its student population. Hispanic students made up 24.1 percent of the student population and white students make up 19.3 percent.
“The district acknowledges the numbers show a disparity,” said Heidi Carter, Durham school board chairwoman. “We need to understand why there is a disparity. It will require deeper analysis of data. We need to be committed to an orderly safe learning environment and keeping as many students in school as possible.”
Short-term suspensions are 1 to 10 days. Black students served short-term suspensions 4,827 times; Hispanic students, 731 times; and white students, 291 times.
In all, students served short-term suspensions 6,020 times, which was a 1 percent increase from the 2011-12 school year. In 2011-12, students were served short-term suspensions 5,934 times.
Th 2012-13 numbers come in wake of two complaints filed last year, one by Advocates for Children Services, and another by Legal Aid of N.C. The complaints said Durham Public Schools suspends black and disabled students at disproportionately higher rates.
According to the complaint filed by Advocates for Children Services, 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 school system held many discussions and started alternative programs to combat the problem in high schools and middle schools.
“I think it’s critical that we work with our community to understand what the underlying causes are that could be influencing these suspension numbers and address those factors before suspensions happen,” Carter said.
Statewide, the number of suspensions decreased by 4 percent from the previous year. Statewide, black students and students with disabilities also serve short-time suspensions more often than their classmates.
“We’re continuing to focus on suspensions, not only on how equitably they are applied in our schools but also how we prevent the need for them in the first place,” said DPS Interim Superintendent Hugh Osteen.
A brighter spot for Durham students (charter and traditional public schools) was that the dropout rate continues to decline.
Since the 2009-10 school year, Durham schools have seen a drop in dropout rates. For the 2012-13 school year, Durham schools had a dropout rate of 3.21 percent, down from 3.55 percent in 2011-12.
The number of students dropping out decreased by 11 percent from 362 to 323. It is a six-year low.
“We’re committed to working with every individual student to keep them engaged in school and prepared for careers and college,” Osteen said. “We’re helping them commit to a brighter future.”
Alexander: 919-932-2008; Twitter: @jonmalexander1