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Discipline trends still show disproportionate rates for Black Brevard students in 2023-’24



Following trends presented in October, Brevard Public Schools saw a jump in discipline referrals during the first semester of the 2023-2024 school year compared to the previous year, with Black students disproportionately disciplined compared to all other races.

A risk ratio is a number that the state department of education uses to determine if the district is “at risk” based on the number of suspensions within a certain population. A risk ratio of 2.5 is an “alert status,” while a 3.0 is when action must be taken, said Chris Reed, director of student services. On the flip side, a risk ratio under 1.0 means that population is receiving fewer referrals when compared to other demographic groups, Reed said.

Multiple groups were under one, including white students, who make up the majority of the population at Brevard Public Schools, while Black students — who make up less than 15% of the population — were over 2.5.

“Nobody’s alarmed by the fact that we’re under one in certain demographics, but we should be alarmed by that,” said board member Jennifer Jenkins. “That’s not good. That’s not a good number.”

Data showed that Black students during the first semester of the 2023-2024 school year had a risk ratio of 2.57, a slight increase from the first semester of the 2022-2023 year, when their risk ratio was 2.55.

While data is not available yet for the whole 2023-2024 school year, FLORIDA TODAY found that there were 27,367 discipline referrals among Black students during the 2022-2023 school year — 32.88% of all reported incidents. That year, there were 74,061 students in BPS. The 10,892 Black students made up about 14.7% of the student population.

Disabled students and students on free or reduced lunch also had heightened risk ratios, with disabled students seeing a risk ratio of 2.01 in the first semester of 2023-2024 (a decrease from 2.06 in 2022-2023), while students on free or reduced lunch seeing a risk ratio of 2.75 (an increase from 2.65 in 2022-2023).

Both years, white students — who make up the majority of the district — had a risk ratio below 0.6.

Black students were also sent to the Alternative Learning Center at a higher rate than the previous year and at a higher rate than all other races during the first semester of the 2023-2024 school year. All other races dropped compared to the previous year, something Reed attributed to the implementation of the district’s drug diversion program.

Board: ‘We are a reflection of society’

Jenkins expressed frustration at the disproportionate rate of discipline among Black students, bringing up concerns about this being an ongoing issue. She brought up that she had previously presented similar data that covered a three-year trend of disproportionate discipline nearly a year ago.

“So now we have four years of the exact same data that shows the exact same trends which are very, very alarming to me,” she said. “I’m so tired of us not really paying attention to that and thinking about ways that we can address that.”

School board member Jennifer Jenkins, pictured at a 2022 meeting, discussed concerns about the rates of discipline among Black students at a Tuesday work session.

10 years of inequities at BPS:Years after a racial inequities complaint was filed against Brevard Schools, questions linger

Previous discipline update:Brevard school board: ‘Better training’ explains 10,000-plus spike in discipline referrals

Jenkins brought up concerns about potential implicit bias among staff and inequitable administration of discipline

Other members of the board disputed her comments for varying reasons.

Katye Campbell said she’s “not in favor of trying to do things to artificially manipulate the data,” adding that some schools in the past have felt pressured to not discipline certain groups of students.

“That’s not the right way to do it,” she said. “What I will support is making sure that our schools …. making sure that we have given staff permission to go in those schools and help them problem-solve, do all of that, making sure that our Title One schools have the support that they need.”

Matt Susin blamed the higher risk ratio among Black students on societal factors.

“I do not believe that there is an extreme bias that’s creating all of this,” he said. “What I believe is it’s a holistic problem that we have with society. If you look at the incarceration rates of African Americans compared to white individuals in the same area, you see the discrepancy.”

Board Vice Chair Gene Trent also sided with Susin, disputing the idea that there is a bias among teachers.

“To say that our teachers have a bias, because that’s who you’re talking about … is, it’s disingenuous,” he said. “To say that they are purposefully targeting a group of kids — I can’t go there.”

Board Chair Megan Wright agreed that it could not be a bias issue.

“Unfortunately, an offense is an offense, and I don’t like that we even have to collect all of that (data),” she said. “To me, it seems like that should be almost colorblind — this is the offense that was committed, it doesn’t matter what color you are … this is the offense, this is the outcome.”

To this point, Jenkins agreed.

“It should be colorblind, but it’s not,” she said. “That’s exactly what the data is saying. It’s not, and it’s not getting better.”

She added that she could also agree that there are issues within society, but that didn’t mean the district was absolved of responsibility.

“We are a reflection of society,” she said. “We build society with the schools that we have, and so if we are not wiling to be honest about it and to address it and change it, that will never change either.”

Other key points from presentation

Similarly to the October presentation, there was an increase in discipline referrals in the first semester of the 2023-2024 school year compared to the previous year, something the district attributed to fewer user errors.

The types of discipline referrals between the two semesters were similar, though some changed because of updates to coding, Reed said. One significant area of change was a rise in physical aggression, specifically in grades pre-K through 3.

Superintendent Mark Rendell specified that this was likely because of changes in coding.

Administrative detentions and out-of-school suspensions were the top two corrective actions for students being disciplined in the first semester of 2023-2024, with 8,282 detentions for students and 7,813 suspensions for students.

Last year in the first semester, there were 9,356 detentions and 6,709 suspensions, though they were coded in separate categories.

There was a slight decrease in in-school suspensions, dropping from 5,111 to 4,803, while out-of-school suspensions roles from 14,035 to 15,358.

Reed said the district’s next goals are to work with schools who have risk ratios over 2.5 to begin developing a monitoring plan, continue monitoring data for completeness and accuracy and continue training staff.

An update to the RSM audit, which was completed in March 2023, is set for Jan. 26, he said.

Finch Walker is the education reporter at FLORIDA TODAY. Contact Walker at 321-290-4744 or X: @_finchwalker.

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