One Step Forward, Two Steps Back: The Never Ending Dance with Charlotte Mecklenburg Schools, Part Two

By: Lindsey Engels

On August 5, 2013, following months of research and meetings, each of Charlotte-Mecklenburg Schools’ (“CMS”) 22 Task Forces presented their recommendations for changes to CMS policies and practices to Superintendent Dr. Heath Morrison. Dr. Morrison designed these task forces from the 22 largest identified concerns voiced at various public forums and town hall meetings and called for each task force to research and make recommendations based on one of the identified issues.[1] One of those task forces was the African-American Males Task Force.

As previously stated in part one of this blog series, the African-American Males Task Force was given the mission to “identify the drivers for African-American male academic achievement and recommend sustainable, systemic solutions to increase overall excellence,” targeting specifically how to increase focus on African-American males’ success, increasing their graduation rate, and opportunities for post-secondary education.[2] As one of the nine recommendations, the Task Force advised CMS to revise its discretionary discipline policy because it disproportionately affects African-American male students.[3]  The Task Force stated,  “African-American males have the highest incidence of being referred to In-School Suspension (ISS) and Out-of-School Suspension (OSS). Also, as the out-of-class time increases for [African-American males], academic achievement is impacted in a negative way as instructional time is lost[4].”  North Carolina’s Department of Public Instruction’s (“DPI”) 2011-12 Consolidated Report on school violence and suspensions further states:

Small, but significant, positive correlations have been found for the relationships between crime and short-term suspension, between crime and dropout, and between short-term suspension and dropout… [T]he factors are associated with one another. Sometimes correlations occur not because one factor causes another, but because an underlying factor causes both. Underlying factors could include demographics such as socioeconomic status or school factors such as management strategies[5].

Additionally, in this report, DPI details that one in seven North Carolina students receives at least one short-term suspension per year, and most high school students included in that ratio receives at least two.[6]  Further, “male students, black and American Indian students, ninth graders, and students receiving special education services are among the groups that continue to be disproportionately represented among suspended students.”[7] Across the state, five out of ten African-American male students, or fifty percent, were short-term suspended in 2011-12.[8]  Out of 100,000 Black males, 352 were long-term suspended.[9]. While expulsion rates significantly decreased, 6,494 African-Americans and 9,766 males were disciplinarily reassigned to alternative learning programs or alternative schools.[10] The Schott Foundation further identified North Carolina as having a 16.3% African-American Out-of-School Suspension risk rate, as compared to a White risk rate of 6.1%, a 2:7 Black/White ratio.[11]

In the Charlotte-Mecklenburg school district, there were 541 reported acts of crime, averaging 14.37 acts per 1000 students.[12] Black males were short-term suspended 20,090 times and long-term suspended 35 times.[13] This is compared to 2,643 short-term suspensions and 8 long-term suspensions for white males.[14] There were no expulsions;[15] however, this data did not reflect specific local education agency (“LEA”) data for disciplinary reassignment to alternative placements.[16]

After reviewing this data, the Task Force looked to the Civil Rights Project’s Center for Civil Rights Remedies’ report Out of School & Off Track: The Overuse of Suspensions in American Middle and High Schools, which showed that “about one in four Black secondary school children today, and nearly one in three Black middle school males, were suspended at least once in 2009-2010,” an increased risk of school suspension of 18 points for Black students[17] The Task Force further looked to a study of Texas schools, stating African-American students and those with particular educational disabilities were disproportionately likely to be removed from the classroom for disciplinary reasons.[18] Students who were suspended and/or expelled, particularly those who were repeatedly disciplined, were more likely to be held back a grade or to drop out than were students not involved in the disciplinary system; and when a student was suspended or expelled, his or her likelihood of being involved in the juvenile justice system the subsequent year increased significantly.[19] Both studies reflect a direct correlation between school suspensions and the school-to-prison pipeline.

Again, in his Strategic Plan 2018, none of Dr. Morrison’s six goals reflected the Task Force’s recommendation for a revision of the discretionary discipline policy, nor the data that they presented in support of that recommendation.[20] Further, there is no evidence the Task Force has continued to meet to monitor progress as recommended, nor that such a recommendation has even been explored as there have been no minutes posted for this task force since May 2013.[21] The future of all students in Charlotte-Mecklenburg Schools depends on policy makers taking these recommendations for change in disciplinary policies seriously, and it is my hope that Dr. Morrison and the CMS Board of Education consider these recommendations such that in the future no child is disproportionately affected by an administrator’s discretionary decision.


[1] 22 Task Force Recommendations for the Superintendent, 1 (August 2013), available at http://www.cms.k12.nc.us/mediaroom/taskforce/Documents/22_Task_Force_Recommendations%20online%203.pdf

[2] Id. at 10.

[3] 22 Task Force Recommendations for the Superintendent at 11.

[4] Id.

[5] Public Schools of North Carolina State Board of Education, Department of Public Instruction, Report to the Joint Legislative Education Oversight Committee: Consolidated Data Report, 2011-2012, 1 (15 March 2013), available at http://dpi.state.nc.us/docs/research/discipline/reports/consolidated/2011-12/consolidated-report.pdf.

[6] Id. at 2.

[7] Id. at 23.

[8] Id. at 28. Short-term suspension lasts 10 days or less. Id. at 24.

[9] Id. at 37. Long-term suspension lasts 11 days or more. Id. at 32.

[10] Id. at 104-05. The data did not reflect a data set for African-American males as a specific set.

[11] The Urgency of Now at 35.

[12] Id. at 18.

[13] Id. at 67.

[14] Id.

[15] Id.

[16] Id.

[18] The Council for State Governments Knowledge Center, Breaking Schools’ Rules: A Statewide Study of How School Discipline Relates to Students’ Success and Juvenile Justice Involvement, ix-xi (July 2011), available at http://knowledgecenter.csg.org/kc/system/files/Breaking_School_Rules.pdf.

[19] Id.

[20] Id.

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