valtena_brown.jpgMIAMI – A survey that shows dramatic disparities in the suspension rates in 50 public schools has one community-based group urging members of the Miami-Dade County School Board to review the school district’s disciplinary procedures and implement sweeping reforms.

The survey was conducted by Power U for Social Change, a non-profit organization based at 8330 Biscayne Blvd. and appears to reinforce the findings of another organization, the inter-faith People Acting for Community Together (PACT), unveiled at its annual meeting on Nov. 4.

Power U representatives presented their findings at a Miami-Dade County School Board meeting on Nov. 19.

Its survey found that schools in Liberty City, Allapattah, Overtown and Homestead had the highest suspension rates in the county, accounting for half the number reported for all 50 schools that were surveyed.

The study took place in conjunction with The Advancement Project, a national advocacy organization that helps local agencies collect data for area schools.

Power U attributed the high suspension rate to a lack of clear policies that offer alternative and more effective forms of discipline to correct misbehavior among black and Latino students.

The report also says suspensions in many cases do not work, citing studies that show ninth-graders with just one suspension are twice as likely to drop out of school than those with none.

The researchers said also that students who receive suspensions in elementary school will likely received similar punishment in middle and high schools. School Board Member Dorothy Bendross-Mindingall was unavailable to comment by phone on the findings.

Miami-Dade County Superintendent of Schools Alberto Carvalho was unavailable to comment on the survey.

Valtena Brown, the district’s chief operations officer, responded to the request for comment with an emailed statement saying suspensions at Miami-Dade County Public Schools have “actually improved significantly over the last five years.”

Brown did not give statistics or go into details about the suspension of black students, who seem to bear the brunt of the form of discipline.

Brown said the district has invited Power U “to be an active partner in making improvements,” adding, “This hasn’t happened yet. Hopefully, with the organization’s new leadership, a true cooperative effort can be implemented.”

Ruth Jeannoel, survey coordinator with Power U, said the organization has invited School Board members to a workshop that will offer different ways to address student behavior problems. Its initiative is called “Restorative Justice.”

There is no indication as yet that Miami-Dade County is about to follow the lead of the School Board of Broward County, whose superintendent, Robert W. Runcie, has signed an agreement with several law enforcement agencies, including the Broward Sheriff’s Office under Scott Israel, to use alternative ways of disciplining students besides suspension and arrest.

That Collaborative Agreement on School Discipline was signed Nov. 7 and is reinforced by Israel’s adoption of the Civil Citation state law that allows for diversion of children away from the criminal justice system in some circumstances.

Both Power U and PACT put the spotlight on suspensions.

PACT also called attention to juvenile arrests. A South Florida Times story on Nov. 14 said PACT’s research found that 70 percent of youth crime in Miami-Dade County typically happened in communities around schools with the highest  suspension rates.

Power U said its survey covered the school years 2011-12 and 2012-13 and included elementary, middle and high schools in the 486 public school system. Students in the survey represented 12 percent of the district’s 354,236 students enrolled this year. 

Overall, the study highlights accomplishments in 2012-13, when suspensions declined 32 percent overall and 28 percent per student. The report also shows a drop in the number of suspensions per 100 students by 36 percent.

But the survey also shows that half of those suspended were in predominantly black schools, where the punishment rate rose over the two-year period. On average, two of every 10 black students in the schools surveyed were suspended on a daily basis.

The report shows suspensions increased over the two years at Phillis Wheatley Elementary, Brownsville Middle, Westview Middle, Horace Mann Middle, Miami Northestern High, Miami Central High, Carol City High and Miami Norland High.

Carol City Middle had one of the highest suspension rates, affecting nearly 70 percent of students in 2013, an increase of about 16 percent over the previous year.