Mississippi

Mississippi leads south in black student suspensions

In 84 Southern districts, black students received 100 percent of suspensions

Black students in schools across Mississippi receive a disproportionate share of discipline, and this is the case in both low-income and high-income districts, according to a new report.*

Edward Smith and Shaun Harper from the University of Pennsylvania’s Graduate School of Education analyzed data for the 2011-12 school year from the U.S. Department of Education’s Office for Civil Rights and found that 1.2 million black students received out-of-school suspensions from K-12 schools nationwide and 55 percent of those suspensions occurred in 13 southern states.

“The residual effects of segregation and slavery, and Jim Crow and underfunded schools, are certainly contributing factors,” said Harper, an associate professor and executive director of the University of Pennsylvania’s Center for the Study of Race and Equity in Education. And these suspensions and expulsions have a lasting impact on black students, he added. “It disrupts the long-term learning and development of the student. Research has shown that students are more vulnerable to interactions with law enforcement and the criminal justice system after experiencing discipline like this.”

This map shows the ratio of black student enrollment to black student suspension rate in Mississippi districts, according to researchers at the University of Pennsylvania. The darker the shade of blue, the more disproportionate the black student suspension rate. Click on a district to get more information.

Nationwide, black students are disproportionately disciplined as early as preschool. A 2014 federal study found that across all grade levels, black children are three times more likely than white students to be suspended. Black children account for 18 percent of the nation’s preschool population but receive nearly 50 percent of out-of-school suspensions. According to the report, in 84 districts in the south, black students accounted for all of the suspensions from public schools and in 181 southern districts, black students accounted for­ all of the expulsions.

Related: McComb educators savor small victories while wondering: Where have all the black boys gone?

In Mississippi, where about half of all students are black, they received 74 percent of suspensions in 2011-12 according to the report, which was the highest proportion compared to the other southern states. While nationwide, black girls account for about 45 percent of girls who are suspended, 80 percent of girls in Mississippi who are suspended are black. Nationally, about 35 percent of boys who are suspended are black, but black boys account for more than 71 percent of those suspended in Mississippi during the year data was available.

According to the data, which schools must report to the Office for Civil Rights, every region of the state had districts with high rates of suspensions. In the Alcorn School District in northeast Mississippi, black students make up less than 4 percent of the student population, but accounted for nearly 14 percent of suspensions. (According to data from the Office for Civil Rights, 29 students were suspended the 2011-12 year.)

For small schools or districts, suspending just one or two black students made a big difference in the data. At the Mississippi School for Math and Science, a boarding school in Columbus and a single-school district, black students account for about 30 percent of the students, and all of suspensions, according to the report, of which there were two in that year.

Its executive director Germain McConnell, however, called the report’s conclusions “inaccurate.” According to MSMS’s records, one of the two suspended students was white, and out of the nearly 30 students who have received out-of-school suspensions in the past five years, only five of those students were black. “We really pride ourselves on treating people the same,” McConnell said. “That’s something we value.”

Patrice Guilfoyle, communications director for the Mississippi Department of Education, agreed with McConnell. “After further reviewing the report, our staff leaders question the reliability of the data included in the report,” she wrote.

Harper, one of the authors, said that only one year was used because the federal government only has data available for two school years, and researchers have suggested problems with the other collection year.

Despite the doubt cast over the federal data’s reliability, the issue of black students receiving the lion’s share of disciplinary action in schools is not new. In 2012, the U.S. Department of Justice filed a civil rights lawsuit against the city of Meridian, Lauderdale County, the state’s Department of Youth Services and several Youth Court judges for operating a school to prison pipeline in which children were funneled into juvenile detention for misbehavior.

In April, the Advancement Project, a Washington-based civil rights organization, filed a complaint with the U.S. Department of Education’s Office of Civil Rights on behalf of three black students in DeSoto County who were suspended by the districts. Special education students are also suspended at high rates in Mississippi, which experts say can be due to poor staff training or a lack of the resources needed to understand and work with students with disabilities.

Related: Mississippi district’s black students make up a third of enrollment, but half of all suspensions

The report’s authors suggest that teacher and administrator education programs bring more attention to racial disproportionality in discipline and teach aspiring educators about “implicit bias and other racist forces.” The authors also suggest that education schools focus on teaching aspiring teachers how to deescalate situations and provide alternative approaches to dealing with student behavior.

This story was produced by The Hechinger Report, a nonprofit, independent news organization focused on inequality and innovation in education. Read more about Mississippi.

*Clarification: This story has been updated to reflect that this report only looked at suspension and expulsion statistics for black students.

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Jackie Mader

Jackie Mader is Mississippi bureau chief. She covers preK-12 education primarily in the rural South. Her work has appeared in the The Denver Post, the… See Archive