HUNTSVILLE, Ala. - Huntsville City Schools’ student discipline report for the 2015-16 school year found black students were much more likely to face school discipline than their white peers.
The school system is required to address the issue of racial discrepancies in student discipline as part of an agreement with the Department of Justice aimed at ending a longstanding desegregation order. But Huntsville City Schools found disparities for 2015-16 were worse than during the previous year.
The report found black students were more likely to face disciplinary referrals, in-school suspension, out-of-school suspension and incidents referred to law enforcement.
For example, black students at Blossomwood Elementary were 10 times more likely to receive a discipline referral than white students. The same held true at the middle school and high school level.
A black Huntsville Junior High student was nine times more likely than a white student to receive in-school suspension. At Grissom High School, a black student was five times more likely to get in-school suspension than a white student.
Here's the 2014-15 report: 14-15-discipline-figures
In a related report, Huntsville City Schools called those figures an aberration, but the system also acknowledged several problems with the student Code of Conduct it implemented for 2015-16.
It said it learned during the last school year that teachers didn’t feel like they “had a voice” in the development of the student Code of Conduct.
And the code of conduct wasn’t ready in time.
“Unfortunately, due to timing issues, the Board did not complete a draft of the 2015-16 Code of Student Conduct until shortly before the start of school, which left no time for teacher input and little time for effective training,” according to a school system report filed with the U.S. District Court.
Huntsville City Schools and the Department of Justice entered into a consent agreement last year overseen by U.S. District Judge Madeline Hughes Haikala aimed at resolving the desegregation order. A major part of the agreement involved school rezoning. When the lines were redrawn, an increased number of minority students were enrolled in majority white schools.
Furthermore, a key area of focus was to address racial disparities in student discipline.
Judge Haikala cited the problem in a court order last year. She said an expert analyzed discipline records for the 2013-14 school year and found the district’s code of conduct “was applied differently to black students.”
The expert found “black students tended to receive, on average, more serious consequences for similar behaviors to white students,” the judge wrote.
Haikala directed that a new code of conduct be established aimed at reducing discipline issues, but the figures for 2015-16 show the problem grew worse.
The board says problems at the school level led to inconsistencies on how discipline was meted out.
“The board believes that the confusion caused by the new Code of Student Conduct and teacher fear about proper implementation of the Consent Order led to reluctance on the part of school staff to discipline students for any misbehavior,” the board’s court filing said.
WHNT News 19 received numerous complaints about student conduct policy from parents and school personnel through much of the 2015-16 school year.
The report claims the board tried to address teacher confusion after the first semester.
“However, by that time, the discipline issues had gone unchecked for too long, and once teachers were encouraged to seek administrative support for disciplinary issues, the number of Office Disciplinary Referrals, and the associated consequences of In-School Suspension and Out-of-School Suspension, increased dramatically,” the board said.
“In fact, despite starting the year significantly better than the 2014-15 school year, the Board ended the 2015-16 school year with more disciplinary incidents than it had in 2014-15.”
The board said it has taken several steps to update the Code of Conduct and involve teachers in that process. It has since implemented a Behavioral Learning Guide for 2016-17.
WHNT News 19 will continue to report on this issue.