Discipline data, 2015

Boulder Valley School District

Hispanic students

Enrollment: 18%

In-school suspensions: 42%

Out-of-school suspensions: 34%

Referrals to police: 31%

 

White students

Enrollment: 69%

In-school suspensions: 47%

Out-of-school suspensions: 53%

Referrals to police: 56%

 

St. Vrain Valley School District

Hispanic students

Enrollment: 29%

In-school suspensions: 38%

Out-of-school suspensions: 40%

Referrals to police: 47%

*Expulsions: 57%

 

White students

Enrollment: 64%

In-school suspensions: 57%

Out-of-school suspensions: 51%

Referrals to police: 44%

*Expulsions: 29%

 

*St. Vrain Valley expulsions totaled 14 students.


Source: Office of Civil Rights Data Collection

Disparities in discipline rates for students of color are a longtime concern for local school districts, with a disproportionate ratio of local Hispanic students suspended or referred to police.

But officials in both the Boulder Valley and St. Vrain Valley school districts say they have initiatives in place to reduce both the disparities and discipline issues in general.

The most recent discipline data from the Office of Civil Rights' Data Collection, from 2015, shows that Hispanic students made up about 18 percent of Boulder Valley's enrollment, but more than twice as much — 42 percent — of in-school suspensions.

The gap narrowed as the disciplinary actions increase in severity, with a 16 percentage point difference for out-of-school suspensions and a 13 percentage point difference for police referrals.

Boulder Valley in 2015 referred 88 students to police, with Hispanic students accounting for 31 percent of the referrals.

Steve Shelton, Boulder Valley's director of student services, said the district believes the disparities in the discipline data are more of a socioeconomic issue than an ethnicity issue.

Students in poverty may be more likely to act out because of trauma, untreated mental health issues and family issues, he said.

He noted that Boulder Valley didn't report any expulsions in 2015, and has rarely expelled students in the last five years because the district began using a deferred expulsion contract.

If students violate the terms of that second-chance contract, they're expelled.

"We just felt that, philosophically, expulsion is not what's best for kids," Shelton said. "We try really hard not to go down that road."

Boulder Valley spokesman Randy Barber said the district is looking at discipline disparities as part of its current equity work, as well as training all administrators in restorative justice practices and adding counselors at elementary schools to better support students.

"We want to start on the low end, using the least possible consequence to change behavior," he said.

The disparities for Hispanic students were smaller in St. Vrain Valley, but increased as the disciplinary actions become more severe.

St. Vrain Valley's Hispanic students made up about 29 percent of the population and about 38 percent of in-school suspensions.

That disparity increased to an 11 percentage point difference for out-of-school suspensions and an 18 percentage point different for police referrals. For expulsions that year, there was a 28 percentage point difference.

St. Vrain Valley referred 103 students to police in 2015, with Hispanic students accounting for 47 percent of the referrals.

While a higher proportion of Hispanic students are expelled or referred to police in 2015, St. Vrain Valley spokeswoman Kerri McDermid said, the overall numbers are very small. Only 14 total students were expelled in 2015.

For the current school year, she said, just four students have been expelled so far, and one of those students was Hispanic.

For referrals to police, 76 students total have been referred so far, including 23 Hispanic students — less than 1 percent of the Hispanic student population.

"Our goal is to keep kids in schools," McDermid said. "We have a lot of interventions to support students."

Those include more counseling support for schools, increasing student engagement in the arts, athletics and other co-curricular activities, increasing academic rigor and provide more high-quality choice programing.

In Boulder Valley, school board member Richard Garcia recently asked for discipline data broken out by ethnicity and school. Those numbers include both the behaviors that lead to disciplinary actions and the actions taken.

Garcia said he would like to see the board talk about the disparities, and is hearing concerns from some parents about an overrepresentation of Latino students being suspended.

For Hispanic students, the top five reasons they got in trouble were fighting, hurtful physical behavior, disruptive behavior, marijuana and noncompliance or insubordination.

For white students, the top five reasons were hurtful physical behavior, detrimental behavior, bullying/harassment, marijuana and alcohol.

On the discipline side, there were only small differences in the top three resolutions to behavior issues.

For Hispanic students, 22 percent of issues were resolved with a student/teacher/parent/administration conference, 19 percent with an out-of-school suspension and 13 percent fell in the "other action taken" category.

For white students, 17 percent of the resolutions fell in the "other action taken" category, 17 percent were resolved with out-of-school suspensions and 15 percent with a student/teacher/parent/administration conference.

For both groups, 2 percent of behavior issues were referred to police.

Boulder Valley attendance advocate Christina Suarez, a previous Latino Task Force of Boulder County board member and currently a state attendance task force member, said poverty and mental health are the main factors.

"Schools educate and keep kids safe," she said. "Some of the risk factors these kids have are way beyond what the school can address. It's a community issue that needs to be addressed on a community level."

Suarez said students who act out generally don't have good coping skills and may get in trouble with a goal of being kicked out to cope.

"Keeping them in school is actually more of a punishment than suspending them," she said. "And if you keep them in school, the staff has a chance to engage with them and turn them around."

Manuela Sifuentes, president of the Latino Task Force of Boulder County, said teacher bias, even if it's unintentional, likely contributes to the disparities for students of color.

"Not having not had the experience of growing up in a more diverse community, educators can be more clueless about their own bias and more likely to send a student of color to detention," she said.

For students acting out because of mental health issues, she added, they may not feel comfortable talking to a teacher or school counselor who doesn't share the "experience of being a brown body in a white school."

Sifuentes' recommendation: Hire a more diverse workforce, including teachers whose backgrounds mirror that of students — especially teachers who immigrated from Mexico or whose families immigrated.

"You want someone who matches the local culture," she said.

Amy Bounds: 303-473-1341, boundsa@dailycamera.com or twitter.com/boundsa