State BOE concerned about school suspension data released Wednesday

CHARLESTON, W.Va. — A new school discipline report conducted by the state Department of Education shows the average K-12 student that was suspended in 2022 lost about six days of classroom instruction.

Paul Hardesty

More than 28,000 students were suspended last year, according to data released to state Board of Education members Wednesday.

There were just under 170,000 total discipline incidents with nearly 67,000 suspensions. The incidents and suspensions include repeat offenders. A total of more than 177,000 days of instruction were lost.

State BOE President Paul Hardesty expressed concern at Wednesday’s board meeting and said disruptive behavior leads to poor outcomes in the classroom.

“We have a problem of epic proportions. It’s no wonder we’re in a position we are on proficiency,” Hardesty said, referring to standardize test scores.

The data highlights disciplines for minority students, foster care students, low-socioeconomic status students, homeless students and disabled students.

Georgia Hughes-Webb, director of Data Analysis & Research with the state Department of Education (WVDE), told board members more students of color were suspended last year compared to white students.

“About one out of every five Black students was suspended at least one time last school year and that is in comparison to 10 percent of our white students, so that’s something we need to be cognizant of and take note of,” she said.

Drew McClanahan

About 14 percent of low-socioeconomic status students were suspended compared to 7 percent of students who come from families with higher incomes. There were 24 percent of foster care students who were suspended compared to 10 percent of students who are not in foster care. Among homeless students, about 17 percent were suspended versus 11 percent for housed students. Suspension was handed down to 15 percent of disabled students compared to 10 percent for those who don’t have a disability.

Drew McClanahan, director of Leadership Support & Development with WVDE, said the more engaging and meaningful instruction is, the fewer disciplines there will be.

“Our task is to make sure children can read and can learn and if we have kids that are outside of school, we cannot get to that point,” he said.

Suspension is not always the answer, McClanahan told board members.

“Let’s say if we have a student after school waiting on the bus that pulls out their cell phone to look at the time or a text message from their mother or father. We know unfortunately sometimes those things happen and I think that we can all agree that that’s not the best time to utilize an in-school suspension or remove a student from the learning environment,” he said.

David Roach

McClanahan said school leaders should work to be empathetic to each individual student’s situation, but also impose consequences when necessary.

“Not saying that a student threatens to shoot up a school that we’re going to let them walk back in the next day. Absolutely not. Our schools must be safe, but we also have to understand that we can have an impact on how students behave and the continued behaviors that maybe we see,” he said.

Hardesty sounded off after hearing the report and said there needs to be options to address bad behavior.

“This has got to be a complete overhaul. We’ve got to do something different,” Hardesty said. “If a kid is being disruptive and doesn’t want to sit in a classroom and learn in a traditional way, let’s get him in a CTE program and let him use his hands. Let him do something different to try to tweak and peak his curiosity. All children don’t learn the same way.”

In addition to empathy and compassion, state Superintendent of Schools David Roach said school employees should also rely on outcomes from the state’s Communities in Schools (CIS) initiative, which is designed to address the impact of poverty in schools by involving community leaders.

“They make the difference. They make the connection. Teachers can’t make that home connection. They try but they can’t,” Roach said.

Hardesty is asking for an all-hands-on approach to address the issue.

“We’ve got to get DHHR involved, the governor’s office, the Legislature, the organizations that come here with us every month to meet, the faith-based communities. It’s going to take a comprehensive effort to try and change this,” he said.

BOE member Debra Sullivan applauded the new data and said it gives them a number of tools to work with to get students back on track.

“This is an opportunity for us to change the dynamic. Before we had a state outline and now, we know the road,” she said.

Debra Sullivan

McClanahan said training will be made available to principals, assistant principals, administrators, teachers, school research officers, local school board members, community members and others in an effort to discuss appropriate disciple practices and to start to change the conversation about implementing in-school and out-of-school suspensions.

The full Discipline Data Review from WVDE can be found HERE.

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