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Report: Huntsville City Schools cut severe discipline last year, but increased referrals, in-school suspensions

HUNTSVILLE, Ala. -- WHNT News 19 received complaints for months during the last school year about discipline issues in the Huntsville City Schools.

Now a new school system report sheds new light on what was going on.

The report was submitted by the school system to the federal judge overseeing its efforts to get out from under a desegregation order.

Huntsville City Schools had about the same number of students in the past two school years, just short of 24,000.

A comparison of Huntsville City Schools discipline reports for the 2014-15 and 2015-16 school years found changes in how those kids were disciplined, and how severely.

In her order setting out the terms of the consent agreement between the school system and the Justice Department, U.S. District Judge Madeline Hughes Haikala said the school system should take steps to reduce the severity of punishments and the number of out-of-school suspensions.

The school system is trying to show enough improvement in a variety of areas – including student discipline rates – to get out from under the federal desegregation order.

The judge had expressed concern about unequal punishments for black and white students for similar offenses. In citing a need for fewer out-of-school suspensions, the judge cited missed classroom time.

And, the records show for the 2015-16 school year, out-of-school suspensions were reduced. There were 1,354 out-of-school suspensions system-wide in 2015-16, down from 1,458, the previous year.

Expulsions also fell sharply with 139, compared to 303 a year earlier.

While fewer students received the most severe punishments there were more discipline referrals than the previous year. A total of 3,271 for 2015-16, up about 100 from the year before.

While out-of-school suspensions were reduced by about 100, in-school suspensions rose sharply to 1,687, up from 1,381 a year earlier.

Severe discipline actions were lowered and more in-house suspensions were issued. But, the school system’s disparity in how frequently black students were disciplined compared to white students, grew worse.