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Black male students twice as likely to be suspended

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A new study released on Dec. 17, 2013 revealed that black male students in Virginia schools were twice as likely to be suspended as white male students.

The report titled, “Prevention v. Punishment: Threat Assessment, School Suspensions and Racial Disparities,” was submitted jointly by Dewey Cornell, an education professor at the University of Virginia’s Curry School of Education, and the Charlottesville's Legal Aid Justice Center.

The report, using data from over 600 Virginia schools, found that suspension rates were actually lower in the middle schools using Virginia's new threat assessment guidelines. The guidelines provide a means of looking at the intent and risk associated with a student's misbehavior.

It was also found that racial-gaps weren't as evident in long-term suspensions in schools using the threat assessment guidelines, and the number of suspensions was lower. "Studies have found no support for the hypothesis that black male students misbehave more often,” said Angela Ciolfi, with the child advocacy program, JustChildren.

According to Ciolfi, studies have found that nationwide, disparities in suspension rates are just the opposite, with black students being suspended more often for less serious infractions of the rules.

The report focused on four recommendations, based on the increased use of the Virginia threat assessment plan. The plan was put into play after the Connecticut school shootings last year, and are credited with helping to keep more students in school. The recommendations included school's making sure suspended students continue to make academic progress, as well as guidelines for educators and law enforcement.

One mind-set has kept school administrators stymied, and that is the zero-tolerance" policy that says students who misbehave need to be kept out of school. But the report's findings show just the opposite, that “school safety and keeping young people in school go hand in hand.”

The topic of disparities in suspension rates among black students has received added attention in the past year in Henrico County, after community members complained to the school board that black students were being suspended at higher rates than other students.

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