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Why do suspension rates vary so much in Mississippi—and how can districts change that?

Report finds in many districts, more than 20 percent of students were suspended in one school year

In Wilkinson County, Hollandale and Tishomingo County, less than 1 percent of students were suspended from school during the 2014-15 school year. Compare that with Moss Point on the coast, where more than 42 percent of students were suspended that year. Or Senatobia Municipal, where one-third of students were suspended.

These numbers, based on data from the Mississippi Department of Education and analyzed by the Mississippi State University Social Science Research Center for a recently released report, show that suspension rates vary greatly throughout the state, which can have major implications for a child’s academic success.

So why do these numbers vary so much? The report says several factors can play a role, including whether a district relies on in-school suspension more than out-of-school suspension, and what behavior a district includes in its discipline policy as deserving of a suspension. Some districts, like the Grenada School District, about 110 miles north of Jackson, for example, specifically state in its student handbook that “academic success is directly correlated with instructional time received by the student,” and the district will use “corrective strategies that do not remove children from valuable instructional time.”

These strategies could be critical to keeping kids in school. Extensive research shows school suspensions have a negative impact on students and can widen achievement gaps, decrease attendance rates and increase the likelihood of students passing a course. Students who are suspended are also more likely to end up in the juvenile justice system.

Here’s a look at some of the most striking data points from the report:

  • Black students are more likely to receive suspensions. During the 2014-15 school year, nearly 13 percent of black students received an out-of-school suspension in Mississippi, compared with about 4 percent of white students.
  • The type of suspension varied by race. Black students were more likely to receive an out-of-school suspension, compared with white students.
  • Ninth-grade students received the most suspensions during the 2014-15 school year, at 23.5 percent. Kindergarten students received the fewest, with 3.6 percent.
  • In-school and out-of-school suspensions have, on the whole, decreased since 2007. The percentage of students with one or more in- or out-of-school suspension has decreased from more than 15 percent in 2007 to about 13 percent in 2014.
  • In Mississippi, 8 percent of public school students received one or more out-of-school suspensions, compared with 6 percent nationwide.

The report highlights some ways districts can try to tackle these high rates and disparities, including rewriting discipline policies to make sure students are not suspended for “minor offenses such as tardiness, truancy, and dress code violations.” Districts should also work on “understanding the root problems which are triggering misbehavior and ensure school counselors are equipped to help address the emotions, feelings, and underlying issues.”

(Requests for information on strategies used to keep suspension rates down in Wilkinson County and Hollandale were not responded to by press time. I will update when that information becomes available).

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Jackie Mader

Jackie Mader is multimedia editor. She has covered preK-12 education and teacher preparation nationwide, with a focus on the rural south. Her work has appeared… See Archive