CMS Suspension Numbers Highlight Racial Divide

Black male students in Charlotte Mecklenburg Schools are more than 12 times as likely to be suspended than their white peers.

CHARLOTTE, NC — Black male students in Charlotte-Mecklenburg Schools are more than 12 times as likely to be suspended than their white peers.

It’s a racial disparity that the district and the community are struggling to address, and a gap that often leads to students dropping out.

“A student with just one suspension becomes three times more likely to drop out,” says education consultant Jessica Miller.

And in CMS black male students are far more likely to be suspended than white students. The numbers are alarming:

2012-13 Suspensions
black male: 19,408
white male: 2,236

2013-14 Suspensions
black male: 13,170
white male: 1,449

2014-15 Suspensions
black male 12,461
white male 1,159

“Our goal is to focus on the  disproportionality we see in out of school suspensions, arrests and ultimately appearances in court,” says CMS Superintendent Ann Clark.

Clark is working to address the issue, forming a juvenile justice initiative with local stakeholders, and trying to find ways to keep at risk kids in the classroom.

“We’re not going to allow students to behave inappropriately and simply not address it,” says Clark. “But we have to look at alternatives to suspension. That can’t be the only choice.”

CMS rolled out a pilot program this semester in the Vance High School feeder system; giving administration and staff extra training on dealing with racial differences.

“Their response, to be honest, hasn’t been urgent and shown the commitment that our students need and deserve,” says Miller.

Miller feels CMS needs to be more bold. Criminalizing student behavior is not the answer.

“When a student misbehaves, we need to see that as an opportunity to discipline, and that means to teach them so that there’s a different choice in the next instance,” Miller adds.

CMS board members have been calling for more social workers, psychologists and counselors in schools. The state has increased the number of school resource officers, but budget cuts have left 44 social workers covering 168 CMS schools.

“They’re only there part time,” says Charlotte business owner Gene Winchester. “And if they were there more, because they have a different relationship with those kids, and those kids open up to them.”

Winchester is a local barbershop owner who works as a mentor with male students. He’s seen students as young as 9 years old hit with multiple suspensions, and knows how devastating the impact can be.

“Dropping out of school, and then getting into the prison pipeline,” he says. “And to me that’s all, that’s what these kids see their future as.”

WCCB News sent an email for every member of the CMS Board of Education seeking comment on this issue. Only District 5 representative Eric Davis got back us.