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Editorial: APS suspension statistics raise questions, concerns

School suspensions are never good news. But Journal writer Shelby Perea’s April 26 story detailing statistics about Albuquerque Public Schools’ suspension history in recent years was particularly troubling.

As reported, total suspensions across the district – not including charter schools – jumped 41 percent between the 2015-16 school year and 2017-18. That’s astounding.

Drilling down further, we learn black and Hispanic students are disproportionately affected. Black students make up about 2.5% of APS student population but account for 5% of all suspensions in each of the past three school years. Yes, the numbers are small, but that’s still an alarming disparity. Hispanic students – who make up 66% of the collective district-wide student body – received 73% of all suspensions in 2017-18, and 74% the prior two years – enough of a difference to draw attention. White students make up about 20% of the student population but received 14% of all suspensions.

Males bore the brunt, making up 72% of all suspensions.

The figures rankle.

APS absolutely has an obligation to conduct school safely and to create an environment where learning can happen. One disruptive student can drag a whole classroom down, and avoiding that scenario should be the end goal.

But that’s a lot of students out of the classroom, out of a learning environment, just out.

Some information is, at this point anyway, notably missing.

Why are so many more students being suspended?

What are they being suspended for?

Have administrators gotten stricter? Has behavior taken a nosedive? Are students getting more violent?

Why are so many students of color being suspended?

Will APS vet its suspension data sufficiently to look for systemic racism or sexism in its practices?

And is anything being done to hook those suspended into appropriate social services as warranted?

These are all questions members of the public will be eager to have APS answer as thoughtfully, honestly and quickly as possible. We don’t completely agree with APS Board President David Peercy that “suspensions don’t help anybody” – they do, in fact, help students who want to learn but can’t because of an ill-behaved classmate. But they definitely don’t help suspended students who, one could argue, are being taught that acting out gets them a free pass to cut class.

This editorial first appeared in the Albuquerque Journal. It was written by members of the editorial board and is unsigned as it represents the opinion of the newspaper rather than the writers.