UCLA expert talks suspension problems at SCSD special meeting

UCLA civil rights expert Dan Losen discusses research findings about suspension and discipline within the Syracuse City School District.

On Monday night, UCLA civil rights expert Dan Losen spoke at a public meeting to discuss research findings about suspension and discipline within the Syracuse City School District.

Losen's national study focuses on several cities, including Syracuse. Losen said suspensions for more serious offenses, such as those involving drugs or weapons, show little racial disparity. Minor offenses, however, including tardiness or dress code violations, result in disproportionately higher suspensions for certain students.

"Syracuse is suspending large numbers of white kids, but much larger numbers of black kids," said Losen. "And then when you break it down to black kids with disabilities compared to white kids with disabilities, those numbers just skyrocket."

According to Losen's research, 55% of African-American elementary and middle school students in Syracuse were suspended at least once during the 2009-2010 school year. In that same year, more than 44% of disabled students were also suspended. Losen also reported that Syracuse's suspension rates are above the national average.

Sonya Simmons, a mother of two boys within the district, said suspensions have directly and negatively impacted her children.

"My son was left back, held back from being promoted because he was never in school....because he was suspended," Simmons explained.

Recently, Simmons said she has noticed a change in the way the district handles discipline.

"Just this year, they're not suspending," said Simmons. "They're calling me. They're talking to me...They're having other alternatives versus being suspended."

Losen also spoke about potential alternatives to suspension, including putting a greater focus on the relationships between students and teachers. He said alternatives must be found so kids remain in the classroom.

"Even being suspended once correlates with a doubling of the risk of dropping out and a tripling of the risk for getting involved in the juvenile justice system," said Losen. "Which makes sense when you really use common sense because kids who are suspended out of school are often unsupervised."

The Syracuse City School District said it will be meeting with a task force made up of community members within the next few weeks to discuss changes to its code of conduct.