Last year, the nonprofit Washington Appleseed had a difficult time finding out exactly how many students are suspended or expelled each year in Washington state.
This year, with more data available from the state, it is putting together a still-incomplete, but much fuller picture, looking at patterns among the roughly 47,500 students suspended or expelled at least once in the 2012-13 school year.
This week, the group released an analysis of discipline data from nine school districts: Bellevue, Edmonds, Federal Way, Marysville, Olympia, Seattle, Spokane, Tacoma and Yakima.
Appleseed warns that the numbers are preliminary, so they might contain errors. It also cautions against reading too much into district-by-district comparisons because some districts report differently than others.
One salient example: Federal Way counts all the days expelled students are absent, and other districts do not. That’s why it looks like students in Federal Way miss much more school due to suspensions and expulsions than much bigger districts such as Seattle and Spokane.
With those warnings firmly in mind, however, the preliminary data do raise questions, such as:
Does Seattle really suspend or expel black and Native American students at five times the rate of white students? In the other eight districts, the rates appear to be much lower.
Did Tacoma and Spokane suspend or expel 10 percent of their students last year, and was the total in Yakima 13 percent? In Seattle, the preliminary data puts its total a little under 6 percent.
Appleseed says it is focusing on the bigger trends, which it considers more reliable:
- Across all nine districts, black and Native American students are disciplined at a higher rate than their white and Asian counterparts. These districts, in other words, have the same patterns that are seen all across the nation.
- By Appleseed’s count, students in special education also are more likely to be suspended or expelled than the average student, as are students in foster care, and those whose families are poor.
- Many students are suspended more than once. To Washington Appleseed, that’s evidence that suspensions have limited value.
- It looks like many students are suspended for minor offenses such as speeding in the parking lot, truancy or violating the school dress code. Appleseed said about half of the time, schools listed the reason for a suspension or expulsion as “other,” meaning it didn’t fall into one of the categories they are required to report, such as bullying, fighting, drug use, bringing a weapon to school, etc.
Appleseed, which works with lawyers and community groups to address social issues, is part of a coalition that lobbied for a new discipline law that went into effect last September. The new law limits suspensions and expulsions to one year, except for students who pose a safety risk. The new law also requires better data collection and requires districts to come up with a plan to help students re-enter school.
Public comment on rules for how the new law will play out are being accepted now.