Black students up to 5 times more likely to be suspended than white peers, says new study on KC schools

KANSAS CITY, Mo. -- There is an alarming new report about who is getting punished in Kansas City Schools. A study has found black students are up to five times more likely to be suspended than their white peers. The district says it is already taking steps to cut back on suspensions, while looking deeper into what can help students as a whole.

“It’s one thing to talk about it, but we need change in practice,” said Dr. Mark Bedell, Kansas City Public Schools superintendent.

Students come to school to learn, but there are bound to be behavior issues from time to time. The problem is that who gets disciplined and how severe the punishment, isn’t even close to being the same for black kids as their white classmates.

“That’s simply unacceptable,” said Dr. Bedell.

A new report by the Kansas City Health Department finds that while black kids make up around 40 percent of local elementary classrooms, they account for nearly three-fourths of all students who get into trouble. The study also found the things they get disciplined for are less likely to be violent offenses, rather they’re more minor and more subjective problems like classroom disruption.

“This is the beginning of a student’s potential interaction with what they might perceive as criminal justice. So we need to start as early as preschool in asking ourselves the hard questions about whether suspensions and expulsions in preschool are something we’re willing as a city to accept or not,” said Sarah Martin-Anderson, community engagement manager with the Kansas City Health Department.

Kansas City Public Schools have cut way back on how many out of school suspensions they’re issuing, which is in part a result of eliminating mandatory suspensions for some offenses. But a big number of kids still end up with in-school suspension. The superintendent says the key in turning things around is building relationships with kids.

“We’re not going to give up on you. You are intelligent. Brilliant. Every kid has a gift and we have to pull that out,” said Dr. Bedell.

Dr. Bedell also believes getting discipline down will in turn help boost academic progress. The next step is getting every staff member from custodians all the way up to administrators, on board with training on the district’s strategic plan.