Editor: Recently questions have been raised by the Loudoun Chapter of the NAACP regarding apparent disproportionalities in the disciplinary treatment of black and Hispanic students relative to other students in the Loudoun County public schools.
Studies conducted by LCPS provide compelling documentation of this disproportionality. For example, a report entitled, “The State of Discipline in Loudoun County Public Schools” (June, 2013) concludes that in 2012, black students accounted for 7 percent of student enrollment, but accounted for 19.7 percent of disciplinary suspensions. According to the analysis, Hispanic students, who accounted for 15.2 percent of enrollment, accounted for 24.6 percent of disciplinary suspensions. In other words, according to the LCPS analysis, black student are 2.5 times more likely to be suspended relative to their percentage of the overall student population. Hispanic students are 1.5 times more likely to be suspended.
According to a report by Hanover Research done for LCPS, “’no study to date has found differences in racial behavior sufficient to explain racial differences in school punishment.’” (Hanover Research, “Ensuring Equitable Discipline: Practices and Policies,” June 2013) Moreover, Hanover notes, research shows that there are no significant differences in behavior between black and white students; black students tend to receive harsher punishment for less serious violations; and black students tend to receive more disciplinary referrals for offenses that require a higher degree of subjectivity, such as “disruption” or “loitering.”
For example, in LCPS the highest category of offenses is “disorderly conduct.” In the academic year 2011-2012, 43 percent of incidents warranting administrative action were for disorderly conduct; 20 percent were for fighting, and 8.7 percent were for bullying, harassment, and vandalism. Disorderly conduct is defined as: “Unwillingness to submit to authority or refusal to respond to a reasonable request. Any act that intentionally disrupts the orderly conduct of a school function. Any behavior that substantially disrupts the orderly learning environment.” (US. VA section 221.1-276.2) Under disorderly conduct are a number of subcategories related to insubordination: Insubordinate conduct disrespect, defiance, and insubordinate classroom/campus disruption. According to an LCPS report on Incidents and Outcomes Frequency, in 2011-2012 there were 39.3 percent incidents of defiance, 24.1 percent of classroom/campus disruption, and 15 percent of using obscene language, and 7.7 percent disrespect. These accounted for about 86% of the incidents classified under disorderly conduct. The subjective and ambiguous nature of the disorderly conduct categories (especially “defiance” and “disrespect”) should be noted. In the academic year 2011-2012 black students accounted for 50 percent of the disorderly conduct incidents, while Hispanic students accounted for 44 percent, and white students accounted for 39 percent.
According to an important updated analysis by LCPS, dated November, 2015, a risk ratio of 1.0 or less than 1.5 indicates that a student group is not more likely to be suspended relative to all students. (Signifying representative risk) A risk ratio of 1.5 or less than 2.0 indicates that the student group is more likely to be suspended. (Signifying over-representation) Finally, a risk ratio of 2.0 or higher indicates disproportionality. (Signifying significant over-representation.) According to this analysis, the risk ratio for black students is 3.00, compared to 0.73 for whites, and 1.76 for Hispanic students.
The fact that the application of ostensibly color-blind rules has resulted in racially and ethnically discriminatory consequences, as documented above, suggests an urgent structural problem at the heart of the disciplinary issues that LCPS must address.
Randy Ihara, South Riding