African-American students in the Madison Metropolitan School District were eight times more likely to get an out-of-school suspension than white students last school year, according to district data.

Multiracial students were four times more likely to be suspended than white kids and Hispanic students were nearly twice as likely. Asian students, though, were only half as likely to be suspended as white kids.

Of the 3,863 out-of-school suspensions last year, 53 percent involved students from low-income families and nearly 24 percent involved students in special education programs, according to a district report on student behavior last school year.

Racial disparity in expulsions is evident too. African-Americans, who made up 19 percent of the school district population last year, were the subject of 60 percent of the 146 expulsion recommendations eventually resulting in 24 expulsions.

That inequity in the district's discipline system is one reason that the Madison school board is meeting Monday, Sept. 16 for a workshop detailing who gets disciplined here and why, and best practices elsewhere.

School board members also hope to move the district’s code of conduct toward positive intervention and restorative justice models that have shown promise in Madison and elsewhere, said school board president Ed Hughes.

“Those exist uncomfortably with the zero tolerance standard in our code of conduct,” Hughes said of the discipline statistics.

It’s not just the disproportionate numbers of minority and low-income students who are suspended and expelled that is troubling, Hughes said. It is the class time missed by students kept from school for disciplinary reasons that school board members hope to reduce, he said.

School district data shows 6,075 days of instruction were missed because of out-of-school suspensions.

“Students are not learning when they are out of school,” Hughes said. “We think we can do better in terms of a code of conduct.”

Several district schools already are using Positive Behavior Support systems, a prevention based model that teaches and rewards good behavior, according to the report. A Restorative Justice model that provides at setting for students to acknowledge the harm their behavior has done to other students and the school community is operating in district high schools and several middle schools.

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