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Kansas City Schools Are Still Suspending Lots Of Students, Even As Discipline Policies Change

Elle Moxley
KCUR 89.3
There have been more disciplinary incidence every year since 2015, according to a new analysis of suspension data from the city's traditional public school districts and charter schools.

Kansas City schools issued more suspensions in 2018 than in 2015, according to a new citywide analysis from Turn the Page KC.

That’s despite a national reckoning with how students of color are disciplined versus their white peers.

“Missouri as a state, unfortunately, has a really high and disproportionate number of black boys that are suspended out of school each year,” said Annie Watson, the director of early education and parent success for Turn the Page. “What we see is that trend is certainly accurate at the local level.”

According to the analysis, which was done by the Urban Education Research Center at the University of Missouri-Kansas City, the number of disciplinary incidents rose 33% between the 2016-17 school year and the 2017-18 school year. (Data from the school year that just ended isn't available yet.) Black elementary students are still twice as likely to be referred to the office as their white peers. And number of days of lost instruction calculated per student increased to 1.35. That’s on average, which means some students lost no days of instruction due to suspensions, while about 40% had at least one short suspension of one to three days.

“A part of chronic absenteeism is when kids have out of school suspensions,” Watson said. “When kids are out of school, they’re not learning.”

Watson said educators aren’t sure why the number of disciplinary incidents keeps increasing, especially because most districts are trying to issue fewer suspensions. And even though the trendline is bad, she said there are a lot of schools in Kansas City that are being really thoughtful and adopting trauma-sensitive approaches to discipline.

One such school is Northgate Middle. Principal PJ McGinnis said his staff has changed how they approach discipline as part of the equity and inclusion work North Kansas City is doing as a district.

“The system that we had was awfully traditional,” McGinnis said. “If a kid was disrespectful or started a fight, they’d get sent to the office, and really the only question would be whether it was ISS or OSS.”

Now, instead of automatically issuing an in-school or out-of-school suspension, administrators try to understand what happened from the student’s point of view.

“Part of our process now is to have that kid’s voice be part of the solution,” McGinnis said. “It’s been great to hear kids reflect on what happened and what they can do differently.”

And kids who commit less serious infractions can go back to class with an action plan and an apology note instead of missing instruction.

KCUR is licensed to the University of Missouri Board of Curators and is an editorially independent community service of the University of Missouri-Kansas City.

Elle Moxley covers education for KCUR. You can reach her on Twitter @ellemoxley.

Elle Moxley covered education for KCUR.
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