Department of Education report shows discrepancies in performance for black, Hispanic students in Fairfield schools
FAIRFIELD — Black and Hispanic students in Fairfield Public Schools are more likely to be suspended or expelled than their peers, according to recently released data by the U.S. Department of Education.
According to data collected for 2015-16, black and Hispanic students made up just 2.2 and 9.3 percent of the school population, respectively, but accounted for roughly 20 percent of all suspensions and expulsions.
Out of 173 students given in-school suspensions, 6.9 percent were black and 16.8 percent were Hispanic. Out of 44 out-of-school suspensions, black students accounted for 18.2 percent. Black students also accounted for 16.7 percent of 12 expulsions districtwide.
Hispanic students accounted for only 4.5 percent of out-of-school suspensions and were not expelled, but were among the least represented in academic statistics like high school calculus, chemistry and physics enrollment that the survey measures.
“That’s a very consistent phenomenon across most all school districts in this part of the country,” said Michael Alfano, dean of Sacred Heart University’s School of Education. Alfano said, in addition to suspension and expulsion rates, students of color are often overrepresented in special-education programs.
The data breaks down overall enrollment data in preschool and various middle and high school courses against overall enrollment by race, as well as data on discipline.
“Obviously people from diverse backgrounds are not more prone to act out or develop disabilities. We clearly have an over-identification problem that disproportionately impacts people of color,” Alfano said.
Superintendent of Schools Toni Jones said, because the total number of in-school suspensions (173), out-of-school suspensions (44), and and expulsions (44) were low, they may be easily skewed and not totally representative of the district. But similar trends carried over into academics, as well.
Black and Hispanic students account for just 0.6 and 4.6 percent, respectively, of the district’s gifted and talented population. Black students enroll at a lower rate than their white and Asian peers in calculus, physics and eighth-grade Algebra 1. The same is true for Hispanic students, with the addition of lower enrollment in high school chemistry.
Students of two races or more are a smaller percentage of the population, 3.8 percent, and appear to fare more equitably.
“The issue is how public schooling has defined gifted and talented. The history of how gifted and talented programs were conceived came out of very white, very male tradition,” Alfano said. “Public schools continue to have, in my opinion, somewhat narrow constructs of what makes someone gifted and talented. Our construct of what’s gifted and talented is very culturally defined. If you come from the nondominant culture, it follows that there is going to be some exclusion.”
These phenomena, Alfano said, are not present only in Fairfield and are not necessarily a knock on the public schools.
“I think communities like Fairfield and others are doing a great deal of work to improve practices around culturally relevant pedagogy, helping educators and administrators understand how students who come from the nondominant culture can still thrive. It’s completely out of balance across the country. Fairfield is not unique to this phenomenon. Neither is Connecticut.”
An achievement gap task force was started in 2016 by Fairfield Warde High School Pequot House Headmaster Deirdra Preis, at the request of Headmaster David Ebling, to address discrepancies in Advanced Placement enrollment faced by students of color and students on free and reduced lunch.
Preis and the group have regular teachers workshops and, in March, hosted their second annual Identity and Education Conference, which allowed minority students across the state to share their stories and experiences with educators.
“With our diversity task force, we’re leaders in the state and I think in the country,” Jones said.
The data is compiled by the U.S. Department of Education’s Office of Civil Rights, which has issued biennial reports since 1968.
Jones said the district looks carefully at the data when it comes out.
“We do pay attention to it and we do want to make sure we’re doing all we can for our students,” Jones said.
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