The St. Paul School District, under pressure to reduce disparities in student discipline, has taken steps to do so, but black students have been suspended eight times more often than their white peers this school year.
That is according to data presented to the state's Human Rights Department under an agreement calling for the district to work to ease the disparate treatment of students who misbehave.
A year ago, St. Paul was one of dozens of public school and charter school systems flagged by the department for the disproportionate percentages of minority students disciplined. Districts and schools then forged agreements with the state to take corrective action and report on their progress.
The first of St. Paul's semiannual reports showed that 73 percent of the students suspended in the first quarter of the 2018-19 school year were black, and that 9 percent were white. The state's second-largest district is 27 percent black and 21 percent white. Asian students, the district's largest demographic group at 31 percent, accounted for 4 percent of suspensions, the March 1 report states.
Disciplinary data was not provided for previous years.
But a review of St. Paul school board records indicates some improvement compared with first-quarter results in 2015-16 — a year that began with two large high school brawls and the assault of a teacher at Central High. That year, black students accounted for 77 percent of students suspended in the first quarter, and white students for 7 percent.
Jamie Jonassen, the district's assistant general counsel, wrote in a letter to Human Rights Commissioner Rebecca Lucero that the district is moving toward districtwide implementation of a preventive approach to behavioral concerns touted by the department: Positive Behavioral Interventions and Supports. As part of it, schools deliver lessons and reminders about what is expected of students in hopes of creating a positive school culture. St. Paul also is beefing up its use of restorative practices, which emphasizes relationship-building.
The board received a 2017-18 discipline update during its meeting Tuesday night. Officials highlighted successes at Johnson High, which has a strong student leadership program, and Highland Park Middle School, which has seen a decline in suspensions of black students by use of calming methods and other strategies.
Asked about disparities, Stacey Gray Akyea, the district's director of research, evaluation and assessment, said the number of black students suspended in 2017-18 was nearly 3,000, compared with about 300 white students. The disparity is so large, she said, that significant change in a single year is unlikely, meaning the district must take a systemic and sustained approach to discipline issues.
The board also agreed to name the auditorium at Central High after Mary Mackbee, who is retiring after 26 years as principal.