• St. Louis superintendent exploring reasons behind district's suspensions

    By Elisa Crouch

    ST. LOUIS • City schools Superintendent Kelvin Adams said Tuesday that he’s taking a deeper look at out-of-school suspensions and whether some student behavior should warrant a response other than being sent home.

    Adams put numbers on a projector screen during a Special Administrative Board meeting that showed out-of-school suspensions across the district are down substantially over six years, from about 11,500 in 2008-09 to nearly 4,000 last school year. But the district’s suspension rate remains one of the highest in the state. It was called out last month in a study by UCLA that examined racial disparities in school discipline across the nation.

    “We look at this data every single Tuesday,” Adams said, showing graphs showing suspension rates by year, race, gender and reason. “We look at these incidents to determine what kind of actions are placing students in a position where they are put out of school.”

    The district keeps spreadsheets on every infraction resulting in disciplinary action. Most suspensions are the result of fighting, disruption or disrespect.

    Adams said he’s concerned about the third category, which accounted for 1,561 – or 18 percent – of the suspensions issued in the first semester of this school year. Determining what is or isn’t disrespectful – such as a student turning his head or stomping his foot – relies too much on the subjectivity of a teacher or administrator, he said.

    “We are looking at our policies to see if this is an indicator that still needs to remain in our code of conduct,” Adams said. 

    Last month, a study published by UCLA found that black elementary school students in Missouri are more likely to be suspended than in any state in the nation, based on numbers from the 2011-12 school year. Missouri also has the greatest disparity between how often black and white students get out-of-school suspension.

    Pushing Missouri’s overall rate upward was St. Louis Public Schools, which suspended 29.1 percent of its elementary school enrollment that year. Normandy and Riverview Gardens each suspended around 21 percent of their elementary students.

    Adams said it’s more effective to use in-school suspension and that the district will continue to pay for 26 employees to monitor detention rooms. In 2013-14, the district issued 6,298 in-school suspensions.

    The Special Administrative Board gave approval to the 2015-16 budget and transformation plan. It’s now up to principals to draw up their own budgets based upon what their schools will get from $286.4 million budget.

    The overall plan calls for the remaking of Vashon High School, which suffers from a high dropout rate and low academic achievement. The school will phase in admission requirements and focus on international finance and computer coding.