ELC Again Calls on NJDOE to Lead and Take Action
The New Jersey Department of Education’s (NJDOE) annual report on student discipline, released in October, shows an alarming increase in student suspensions with continued disproportionate impact on Black students. The percentage of all students suspended from school increased from 3.6% to 4% in one year. The report also shows an alarming 9% of all Black students in New Jersey public schools were suspended, compared to less than 3% of white students.
The NJDOE released its 2018-19 Student Safety and Discipline Report with no public announcement and no comment on the findings and trends in rates of suspension, police notifications and bullying in New Jersey public schools.
In addition, the NJDOE did not compare 2018-19 discipline data with 2017-18 to identify trends in student suspensions and police involvement in schools. The 2018-19 data is from the school year before the onset of the COVID-19 pandemic.
“It’s clear the NJDOE is trying to sweep the data on student discipline under the rug,” said David Sciarra, ELC Executive Director. “This is even more troubling given that the data shows New Jersey’s Black students are disproportionately impacted by the use of harsh discipline measures in our public schools.”
1) An Increase in Police Notifications and Arrests
Certain types of incidents, such as possession of drugs and weapons, require school principals to notify the police, but others are non-mandatory referrals or at their discretion. In 2018-19, police notifications totaled 7,799, an increase from 7,449 in the prior year. At the same time, there was a drop in the number of non-mandatory referrals made to police – 53% of police notifications in 2018-19 were non-mandatory compared to 62% in 2017-18. There was a slight increase in incidents leading to student arrest, from 1,385 in 2017-18 to 1,411 in 2018-19.
2) An 11% Increase in Suspensions
In 2018-19, 55,971 students received at least one in or out of school suspension, compared to 50,283 in 2017-18, an 11% increase. This represents a rise in the overall suspension rate from 3.6% of all students to 4%. The increases included both in and out of school suspensions. The total number of days students were removed from school from suspensions also increased: 168,509 days in 2018-19 compared to 150,024 in 2017-18. In addition, in 2018-19, 1,154 students were moved from their school to another school and 19 students expelled from school due to disciplinary incidents.
3) An Increase in Suspensions of Black Students
In 2018-19, 8.9% of Black students were suspended from school on at least one occasion, representing a 1% increase over 2017-18. Given that most suspensions take place in middle school and high school, it is quite likely that the suspension rate for Black students is even higher in the later grades. The rate for Black students is at least double that of all other race/ethnicity groupings. Smaller increases were seen among other racial groups as well: multiracial students and Latinx and American Indian students. The lower rates among Asian and White students remained stable.
4) An Increase in Violence and Substance Offenses
Overall, incidents of “student safety” increased 13% from 24,938 in 2017-18 to 28,121 in 2018-19. Some key categories with notable increases are: marijuana from 2,876 to 4,189, fights from 4,042 to 5,183, and assaults from 3,890 to 4,298.
5) A Slight Decline in Bullying Investigations
The number of Harassment, Intimidation and Bullying (HIB) incidents declined slightly, from 7,522 to 7,183, along with a larger 11% drop in bullying investigations, from 18,741 to 16,952. The rate of confirmation of HIB investigations also rose slightly from 40% of cases to 42%. This increase may be attributable to an administrative code change giving principals more discretion in making an initial determination on whether to open a HIB investigation.
The alarming increase in suspensions, particularly among New Jersey’s Black students, underscores the recent call issued by ELC and the American Civil Liberties Union of New Jersey (ACLU-NJ) for more transparency and detail in the public reporting on student discipline and safety. Specifically, ELC and ACNJ have called on the NJDOE to:
- Disaggregate the public reports of school suspension rates, police referrals and arrests by category of offense (from minor infractions to more serious types of offenses), by race, gender and disability at the school level;
- Publicly report the number and type of law enforcement officers deployed in school districts, as well as the funding source for each law enforcement officer employed by the district;
- Create a public, statewide repository of all agreements signed by school districts with local law enforcement agencies;
- Adopt rules governing expenditure of the nearly $300 million in categorical “security aid” distributed annually through the School Funding Reform Act (SFRA), including prohibition of the use of such aid to hire police officers and instead promote research-based practices to improve school safety and climate.
While some data in the NJDOE report is also available at the school and district levels, it is not disaggregated by student subgroups. ELC recommends parents and concerned community members check their local district reports in the “Climate and Environment” section of the school performance reports to determine if the information reflects their knowledge and experience of incidents occurring in and around their schools. This public review is critical to address errors in reporting and improve the quality of public information.
The NJDOE annual report is an opportunity to address discipline disparities and identify corrective action. Unfortunately, the 2018-19 report again shows a failure of leadership at the NJDOE to confront the movement and demand for racial justice in communities across the state.
Policy and Outreach Director
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Director of Policy, Strategic Partnerships and Communications