Suspension counts slightly up in 2017 at Osseo Area Schools

Black students represent the majority of suspensions

While student suspension counts at Osseo Area Schools have dropped significantly since 2010, suspensions were up slightly in 2017 as compared to the two previous years.
In 2017, there have been 1,308 student suspensions, as opposed to 1,124 in 2016 and 848 in 2015. That represents an additional 184 suspension incidents in the 2017 over the previous year.
Suspension counts were presented to the school board at an Oct. 3 work session.
“Out-of-school time typically leads to lost instructional time, which impacts student achievement,” said Sarah Vernig, district level principal.
In 2010, there were 2,492 student suspensions. Broadly, the district has been on a downward trend since 2010.
While suspensions were up from the previous year, 2017 suspension counts were at their third lowest since 2010.
The district’s overall suspension rates, in addition to the racial makeup of suspended students, are monitored by the Minnesota Department of Education and the Office of Civil Rights.
The increases in the past two years were expected in part because of the change to grade spans in the district’s schools, Vernig said. Cultures at the schools need to be re-established with new grade levels in the buildings, particularly at the secondary level, she said.
Suspensions in 2015 were the lowest the district has seen since 2010. The district said that 2015’s statistics are an outlier.
“We believe that 2015 is an outlier. Sometimes it’s an anomaly, and that just happens. We don’t really have a lot of idea about why that is, but we know that that’s not typically what our trend has shown, but that is our lowest year,” Vernig said.
The district gained 565 additional students in 2017 as compared to 2016.
“We’re not happy, obviously, to see the slight uptick this past year,” Vernig added. “We’re not really sure if this is a true trend, or if it’s due to the increase in population from one year to the next.”
Any single student could account for more than one suspension incident in the data.
The district has been using a student management method referred to as positive behavior intervention and supports for the past six years. The district partially credits the drop in suspensions to the use of this system. The number of infractions that result in a suspension has also been reduced since 2010.
The majority of students suspended in the district are black. For 2017, 1,019 suspension incidents involved black students, as compared to 171 incidents for white students, 56 for Hispanic students, 32 for Asian or Pacific Islander students, and 30 for American Indian students.
Black students made up approximately 24 percent of the district’s students, and approximately 80 percent of district suspensions.
“Overall, nationwide, there’s a concern about the disproportionality and over-representation of black students, particularly around suspensions, expulsions and exclusions [from] schools. We are seeing that very same trend in our district, which is why we have to be conscious about what practices we are implementing, and what biases may or may not be impacting those.” Vernig said. “It’s about what people report, and we can only act on what teachers and staff members are reporting and how they report that.”
The Department of Education argues that suspension rates should approximately reflect and be proportional to the size of demographic groups in a district, Vernig added.
“That’s MDE assuming that all other variables are the same, which they aren’t,” said Boardmember Robert Gerhart. “We also have disproportionality in economics, we have disproportionalities in higher poverty rates among our black students. If you had two groups of white students, a wealthy one and a poor one, I would say, you probably could spot a trend saying the poorer white students are going to probably have more behavioral issues.”
“How do you tell the difference between truly disproportional over-reporting and disproportional commitment of the issues in the first place?” he added. “Whatever we can do within our own boundaries to stamp out any of the disproportionality, [we] absolutely have to go after that.”
Assistant Superintendent Kelli Parpart said the district needs to ensure it is being culturally responsive, respectful and safe throughout any students’ education.
“It’s a deficit when you’re not part of a majority race,” said Assistant Superintendent Kim Hiel. “Just even something as simple as disrespect, that’s so subjective, right? So any of this could be disrespect according to that teacher’s perspective … we also may be looking at, are we being culturally relevant,” she said.
Boardmember Mike Ostaffe and Gerhart said that the district should record if students being suspended are on free-or-reduced lunch, or if they are learning English as a second language to see how those factors impact suspension rates.
“There are these other social-economic issues that could be driving this … no one wants to put it on race. What are the other items that are driving it that we need to explore?” Ostaffe said.
“Someone that has been here one year from a different country that does not understand the language, I could see an issue with frustration levels and everything else to act out. That could be one reason, but I don’t know from this,” he added.
The district’s suspension tracking method mirrors the Department of Education and Office of Civil Rights tracking methods. That is, neither group tracks English language-learners or free-or-reduced lunch student suspension rates. The majority of district staff members are not legally allowed to know if a student is on free-or-reduced lunch, making it difficult to track those statistics. No plans to begin collecting that data were discussed by district staff.
Positive behavior intervention and support student management methods focus on restorative justice to help manage students rather than retributive methods.
These methods see an alleged crime as harming people rather than a violation of the rules. Restorative approaches also focus on fixing or repairing injured relationships, and allow district staff members to maintain a positive relationship with students.
Trauma-informed practices also used by the district can help to increase equity for students with various negative life experiences and help staff members better understand how those experiences can impact behavior.

Follow Kevin Miller on Facebook at facebook.com/mnsunpost/.