A task force convened to study school safety issues across Ramsey County issued a report Thursday affirming that students of color, and black students in particular, continue to be disciplined in disproportionate numbers.
The review, commissioned by County Attorney John Choi, was overseen by a 39-member group that represents a broad section of the community and will require a communitywide response, Choi and task force leaders say.
His office plans to send the report to 275 community leaders in the county in hopes they will join an effort to "step outside of our silos and be more intentional about how we invest in and engage children and families, particularly across the possible barriers of race, class, culture and exposure to trauma," Choi said in a statement.
Choi called for the study after a review by his office in December 2015 showed that student-on-staff violence — measured by the filing of fourth-degree assault cases — had doubled in Ramsey County between 2014 and 2015.
The task force, too, looked at offense data in the schools. But in its 39-page report, the group purposely resisted "placing blame" by focusing, instead, on a "deep desire to change systems and identify holistic solutions," co-leaders Jeremiah Ellis and Suzanne Kelly wrote in an introduction.
Mental health services should be provided, and community and faith-based leaders engaged, members said.
The report steers clear of get-tough approaches to behavior problems.
Better understanding why students act out is a goal. To that end, school resource officers — cops in schools — are advised to build positive relationships with students, and districts are encouraged to apply discipline in ways that value relationship-building over punishment.
Both efforts are underway in the St. Paul Public Schools, which accounts for an overwhelming majority of offenses reported in the county between 2012 and 2015.
Earlier this year, the St. Paul district reported that suspensions were down 21 percent for students overall, and 20 percent for black students, during the first quarter of this school year. But while black students make up less than one-third of St. Paul's student population, they accounted for 77 percent of all suspensions.
Task force members acknowledged being frustrated with the challenges faced by students, families and staff members. But they closed out the report on a high note, saying many were at the ready to assist on the follow through.
For more on the task force report, and data reviewed, go to: ramseycounty.us/safeschools.