Disparities in Melrose School Discipline

In September 2020, the Boston Globe reported that Black girls in Massachusetts are five times more likely than their white counterparts to be suspended from school. That article made me wonder whether there are racial disparities in school discipline here in Melrose.

In reviewing data from the Massachusetts Department of Elementary and Secondary Education, I found that, in 2018/2019, Black students in Melrose were three times as likely to be disciplined as white students, and four times as likely to be given an out-of-school suspension. Latinx students were twice as likely as white students to be disciplined, and twice as likely to be given an out-of-school suspension. Overall, students of color represented about 22% of the student body, and 35% of the disciplinary actions reported to the state. I shared this information in a letter to the Melrose School Committee, Superintendent Kukenberger, and Mayor Brodeur.

Last week I returned to the data for 2019/2020 to see if things had changed. I found that racial disparities in school discipline had increased.

State data from 2019/2020 show that Black students in Melrose were six times as likely to be disciplined as white students, and nearly eight times as likely to be given an out-of-school suspension. Latinx students were twice as likely to be disciplined as white students, but we do not know the details of that discipline, because that information appears not to have been reported to the state. Last year, students of color represented 23% of the student body and 39% of the disciplinary actions reported to the state.

A large body of evidence examining the short and long-term effects of school discipline shows that it contributes to racial disparities in academic achievement, reduces participation in extracurricular activities, increases risk for substance use and school dropout, and contributes to the “school-to-prison pipeline” by increasing the likelihood of arrest and incarceration.

With a school committee election coming up in November, I urge all Melrose residents to ask school committee candidates what plans they have to eliminate racial disparities in school discipline. Ask Superintendent Kukenberger to set a goal to eliminate racial disparities in the next school year (2021/2022). Let Mayor Brodeur know that racial disparities in school discipline should be part of an annual assessment of Melrose’s progress toward racial equity

The School Committee, Superintendent Kukenberger, and Mayor Brodeur are accountable to us, the residents and school families of Melrose. Let’s let them know we expect them to immediately and completely eliminate racial disparities in school discipline.