VanHoose Education Center | Photo by Olivia Krauth

Jefferson County Public Schools narrowed one racial gap by 10 percent as suspensions and referrals largely continue to trend downward, according to new district data.

Overall suspensions are down around 16 percent for the first half of the 2018-19 school year compared to the year earlier. Referrals are down around 5 percent. Both are down for all but one student group compared to this point last year, with ESL students seeing a minor increase in referrals. 

Still, disparities continue. African-American students are 2.7 times as likely to receive a suspension than a white student, and two-thirds of all suspensions were given to black students, per district data.

That number is down from this time last year when black students were three times as likely to be suspended — a 10 percent reduction in disparity. African-American students, however, continue to receive 2.7 times as many referrals as their white peers — in line with last year’s figure. 

Shared with the school board Tuesday night, the findings build on steady drops from the first quarter of the school year. District initiatives to curb behavior issues and reduce inequity in punishments, including data reviews of every suspension and more student supports, seem to be working, officials have said.

JCPS Superintendent Marty Pollio said he is “very proud” of the findings, calling them “validation” that the district is on the right track.

Some advocates tied to the Alliance to Reclaim Our Schools coalition would like to see JCPS specifically tackle the racial disproportionality as part of its larger racial equity plan, AROS leader Chris Harmer said Tuesday.

The plan, passed earlier this month, aims to see a 10 percent reduction in suspensions for students of color by fall 2020. Instead of just focusing on the number of suspensions, some AROS members went to see a drop in the ratio — if black students receive three times as many suspensions, they’d like to see that drop to 1.8 times as many, for example.

Elementary referrals and suspensions continued to decline into the second quarter following a Courier Journal investigation into the high level of suspensions for the district’s youngest students. Across the first half of the year, elementary referrals dropped around 7 percent and suspensions were slashed in half, according to an Insider Louisville analysis of district data. 

Members of Harmer’s group would like to see elementary suspensions nearly eliminated, he said in a note to school board members.

Referrals and suspensions in JCPS are down from the halfway point in the 2017-18 school year. | Graphic by Olivia Krauth

High school behavior referrals also continued dropping, decreasing 1.8 percent in the first quarter and another 6.8 percent in the second.

Discipline rates for traditionally disadvantaged students dropped faster than the rates for their white peers, signaling potential steps to equity in the district. Suspensions for African-American students dropped 18.5 percent, data show, compared to 9.7 percent for white students.

But some figures inched up during the second quarter of the 2018-19 year after posting strong drops in the first quarter, according to JCPS data. 

While referrals and suspensions have dropped across the board compared to the 2017-18 year, some segments jumped in the second quarter. | Graphic by Olivia Krauth

JCPS saw more middle school referrals and suspensions, and high school suspensions, in the second quarter than in the first, according to the new data. All three figures continue to be lower than the second quarter of last year, but signaled a potential reversal of progress in the first quarter. 

For example, there were 11,201 middle school referrals in the first quarter of the 2018-19 year. The second quarter had 13,724 referrals — an increase of 2,523 more referrals. That translates to a roughly 23 percent increase between the quarters.

Middle school suspensions jumped 24 percent in the same timeframe, and high school suspensions by 15 percent, data show.

JCPS officials share quarterly updates on student behavior, academic progress and absenteeism with the school board as part of its Vision 2020 plan. 

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Olivia Krauth
Krauth reports on education in Louisville, including JCPS, the University of Louisville and state policy.Before joining Insider Louisville, she covered technology and business as a reporter at TechRepublic. She also spent time on the data team at the Austin American-Statesman in Texas as a Dow Jones intern.Krauth graduated from UofL, where she was an award-winning editor of The Louisville Cardinal and obtained a degree in investigative journalism with a minor in Russian studies.Email Olivia at [email protected]