What’s causing suspensions for black city students in Buffalo & Niagara Falls?

Dec 10, 2018

Black students at Buffalo Public Schools are twice as likely to be suspended as white students. That is according to results of a new report issued Monday by The New York Equity Coalition.  Niagara Falls City School rates also have high rates. WBFO's senior reporter Eileen Buckley has reaction from both districts.

Niagara Falks Ciry School District looks at reasons preventing graduation. Suspensions are included.
Credit WBFO News photo by Eileen Buckley

"You have to peel the onion back to actually find out what's really going on,” said Tommy McClam,director Say Yes Buffalo Boys and Men of Color. 

Tommy McClam is director Say Yes Buffalo Boys and Men of Color.
Credit WBFO News photo by Eileen Buckley

McClam tells WBFO News he's not surprised by results of this report because it's a nation-wide problem.  Still Buffalo schools suspend black students at the highest rate of any Big five school districts in the state. We asked McClam about the equity of the suspensions.

“We have to get a place where it is equitable across the board where we are not asking the question is a person of color or not of color.  But  it should be when we look at the stats - the stats should be the same across the board. And when we start seeing the stats the same across the board then we know we are at least getting closer to the mark,” McClam replied.  

The report noted nearly one-fifth of all black students in Buffalo Public Schools have been suspended at least once. McClam said  much of the suspension problems in the Buffalo city schools are a result of fighting.

"One young person who actually said to me - okay - we have a detention room and we have suspensions - but no prevention room. There's no room - where maybe today - it's a difficult day because today I may have lost my best to a gun shot or something of that nature”, explained McClam. 

The Buffalo School District continues to work on the suspension issue. In a statement it noted "disproportionate suspensions are a long-standing, multi-faceted justice issue in education in Buffalo and elsewhere. It is one of the four big issues along with attendance, over-referral to special education, and failing schools, that framed our plans for the Education Bargain in Buffalo." 

The Distirct also pointed out the data in the report is "two years old" and this year suspension in the city district are "trending downward."

"We attribute that to many important ongoing district-wide training programs for staff to stem implicit bias toward students," the district stated. 

The District is also committed to trainings to prevent suspensions and behavioral issues. The district said those trainings Culturally and linguistically Responsive Teaching (CLRT), Trauma-informed Care (TIC), Restorative Practices (RP), and Technical Assistance Center Disproportionality (TAC-D) Training. It also provides programs and services for students include Character Counts, Mental Health Clinics, Multi-Tiered Systems of Support (MTSS), My Brother’s Keeper, BeThere Mentoring programs, Extended Learning Time (ELT) Excellence, Saturday Academies, as well as a broad array of supports and services provided by over 150 Community Based Organizations (CBOs).

The District said it is "also working effectively with parents to address this issue."  Among those strategies,   Parent Congress collaborations, Parent Centers, Parent Summits, and inclusion of parents in CLRT, TIC, RP and TAC-D training.

In the Niagara Falls City School District suspension rates for black students are in the top five for the entire state.  However, Falls schools superintendent Mark Laurrie tells WBFO more and more students are being suspended for drugs.

Outside Niagara Falls City Hogh School
Credit WBFO News photo by Eileen Buckley

“I'm seeing this year a decrease in physical violence and a real uptick in possession of drugs. There's an uptick in the use of marijuana and other tobacco related substances - not really prescription drugs,” remarked Laurrie.  

Of the 7,000 Falls city students about 36-percent black students and 24-percent are represent other races. Laurrie says they need more teachers who look like the students they are teaching.

The following are some of the findings in the Coaltion report:

·         Buffalo schools are 2.2 times more likely to suspend Black students than White students.

·         Schools in the rest of Erie County are 5.1 times more likely to suspend Black students than White students. Suburban schools suspended Black students at a rate of 11, compared to 2.2 for White students. At the high school level, suburban schools suspended nearly one in five Black male students.

·         At the elementary/middle school level, schools in the rest of Erie County are 12.2 times more likely to suspend Black female students than White female students. At the high school level, Buffalo schools are 5.9 times more likely to suspend Black female students than White female students.

·         At the high school level, the Buffalo Public Schools suspend Black male students at a rate of 30.7, which is a greater rate than any other group of students. At the elementary/middle school level, Buffalo Public Schools suspend American Indian male students at a rate of 21.4, which is a greater rate than any other group of students.

·         Statewide, suspension rates were highest in high schools, but racial disparities were greatest in elementary/middle schools. Elementary/middle schools outside of NYC suspended Black students at a rate 4.9 times that of White students, and high schools outside of NYC suspended Black students at a rate 3.8 times that of White students.

·         Statewide, schools imposed the most disproportionate discipline on Black female students. Outside of NYC, schools were 6.1 times more likely to suspend Black female students than their White peers, and in NYC the school district was 8.6 times more likely to suspend Black female students than their White female peers.

·         Statewide, schools suspended Black male high school students at a greater rate than any other group of students. Outside of New York City, schools suspended 19 percent of Black male high school students — or nearly one in five Black male students in high schools.

·         Big 4 and urban/suburban high-need school districts had the highest overall out-of-school suspension rates —and New York City, which imposes suspensions somewhat differently than the rest of the state, had the lowest.

·         Low-need school districts and New York City had the biggest racial disparities in suspension rates.

You can review the report by clicking here