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Racial disparities continue in APS suspension figures

Copyright © 2020 Albuquerque Journal

An overall jump in suspensions seen in the 2018-19 school year isn’t the only thing the suspension data reveals.

Hispanic and black students are being suspended at higher rates than students of other ethnicities and races – similar to previous years. And school board members the Journal spoke with are troubled by the continuing trend.

While Hispanic students made up roughly 66% of APS’ population in 2018-19, this student group accounted for a greater number of suspensions in APS – 74%.

Data show this phenomenon has steadily increased over the years.

APS demographic information shows that Hispanic students have consistently made up about 66% of the student population.

But in 2017-18, 71% of suspensions were given to Hispanic students with a lower rate in 2016-17 (68%).

Black students were also suspended at higher rates, APS reports show.

In 2018-19, the APS student population was 2.5% black. But 4% of all suspensions were given to students who are black, according to district data.

This is down slightly from the 2017-18 school year when the disparity was a percentage point higher.

For comparison, Anglo students make up 21% of APS students yet 13% of suspensions were given to students of that group, which aligns with past years.

The suspension data represents in-school and out-of-school suspensions and includes charters.

Monica Armenta, a spokeswoman for the district, said a student’s behavior is the only thing taken into account for discipline.

“Students are disciplined based on their conduct without regard to nationality, special education status or any other criteria,” she said.

Board of Education members said the problem needs to be looked at further.

“I’m real concerned that if there is an increase we have not done enough. We just have not done enough,” District 5 member Candelaria Patterson said about overall suspensions.

She said she was particularly concerned about the racial disparities seen in the data.

“This cannot continue given the diversity of this district. This just cannot continue,” she said.

Patterson said she has asked the administration for a more in-depth presentation on the data, adding that the district needs to analyze the numbers and figure out the root cause.

As far as she knows, the district hadn’t conducted analyses on racial disparities in suspensions.

Armenta said the district has done research on “our Native American and African American student population” but didn’t provide the Journal with details or the results.

District 2 Board Member Peggy Muller-Aragón echoed Patterson’s concern, saying restorative practice efforts in the district need to be looked at to see if they are making an impact.

Patterson’s district is included in Learning Zone 2, which had the highest number of suspensions in 2018-19 compared to the other areas in the district.

Learning zones are smaller geographical groupings within APS. Zone 2 includes schools in the South Valley area, such as Rio Grande and West Mesa high schools.

District 1 board member Yolanda Montoya-Cordova, who represents schools in this learning zone, didn’t respond to the Journal’s request for comment.

With 4,642 total suspensions in 2018-19, Zone 2 had nearly twice as many suspensions than the other learning zones in APS that averaged 2,354 suspensions.

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