Why This School District May Stop Sharing Student’s Discipline Records With Colleges

In this photo taken Thursday, Aug. 22, 2013, Dara Van Antwerp, the school resource officer at Panther Run Elementary School Pembroke Pines, Fla. walks the hallways of the school where she teaches in the Gang Resistance And Drug Education (GRADE) program. CREDIT: WILFREDO LEE
In this photo taken Thursday, Aug. 22, 2013, Dara Van Antwerp, the school resource officer at Panther Run Elementary School Pembroke Pines, Fla. walks the hallways of the school where she teaches in the Gang Resistance And Drug Education (GRADE) program. CREDIT: WILFREDO LEE

One of the largest school districts in New York may ban sharing of student discipline records with the universities and colleges that are considering admitting them, saying the practice disadvantages students of color. Syracuse City School District, located in central New York, will vote on the proposed policy change next week.

Studies show that teachers often exercise a racial bias toward black and Hispanic students when making decisions about student discipline, which means that students of color are more likely to have disciplinary records showing suspensions or expulsions. That could hurt them once they begin applying for college, because the Common Application — a form that many colleges use — asks about whether a student has a disciplinary record.

“We are making a statement that we believe it is wrong that the universities ask this question when they will not disclose how they use the information when they have two students with equal credentials,” Syracuse City School District Superintendent Sharon Contreras said at a recent board meeting, according to Syracuse.com. “How many times should a student pay? You make a mistake when you’re a ninth grader and it hurts you when you are applying to college? That’s just not fair.”

Contreras added that the information isn’t necessary to share with colleges because it isn’t relevant to a students’ ability to succeed at college.

Nonetheless, many higher education institutions are collecting this data. A survey released earlier this year by The Center for Community Alternatives shows that 46 percent of colleges gather information on disciplinary records on their individual application materials and 27 percent collect that information from Common Applications. And a large majority of those colleges — 89 percent — said disciplinary records influence their admissions decision-making.

According to a report by the Discipline Disparities Research-to-Practice Collaborative, female students of color, LGBT students and Latino students are disproportionately more likely to be suspended. Black students were 1.78 times as likely to face suspension and Latino students were 2.23 times more likely to be suspended. Students with disabilities were also punished more, especially if they were black students with disabilities. In 2014, The U.S. Department of Education released a report showed even more disparities in how students of color were punished, with black students being expelled at three times the rate of white students. In some cases, even black elementary school-age girls are arrested by police.

The discussion about racial bias in school discipline practices heated up again recently after a female black teenager was thrown from her desk by a white male police officer, who was called in after a teacher said she was disrupting the class. The incident, which took place in Richland County, South Carolina’s Spring Valley High, was videotaped and the officer was fired. However, it is telling of police attitudes toward students of color that although Richland County Sheriff Leon Lott said the officer did not follow appropriate conduct, he also said the student needed to be “held responsible for what she did.”

School discipline policies remain controversial for many school districts, as teachers unions argue that more relaxed student discipline will endanger teachers and that teachers unfairly shoulder the burden of student discipline compared to administrators.

In Oklahoma City School District, for example, where a new student discipline policy has resulted in a 42 percent reduction in suspensions within the first seven weeks of school, teachers are saying they have a lack of administrative support in responding to student misbehavior. Union leaders at Akron Public Schools have voiced similar concerns over an incident that administrators and union leaders interpreted very differently. Union leaders say a student threatened a teacher while administrators said the student was joking.

The Syracuse City School District has recently sparked some controversy of its own over its discipline approach. The district has a high rate of suspension along black students — so high, in fact, that the U.S. Department of Justice had to instruct the district to enact a new code of conduct that would hopefully reduce suspensions. According to an investigation by the New York Attorney General’s office, black students were twice as likely to be disciplined compared to white students and there weren’t enough safeguards in place for students with disabilities. School resource officers also did not receive training on the school’s code of conduct and how to treat misconduct from students.