The number of black and Hispanic high schoolers suspended from school fell in the second half of this past school year when compared with a year earlier, according to Montgomery County Public Schools data.
That continues a trend. School officials reported in March that, based on the first half of the school year, suspensions were down compared with the previous year, although more for white students than for their black and Hispanic peers.
School officials attributed the drop, in part, to professional development for staff that focused on race and equity.
While the schools have been looking at suspensions overall, the disproportionate numbers between ethnic and racial groups created a focus, said Christopher Garran, associate superintendent for high schools.
“Clearly our focus was on African-American and Latino students,” Garran said.
Based on full-year data for 2013-14, the number of times Hispanic students were suspended fell 40 percent compared with the 2012-13 school year, according to a memo Friday from Superintendent Joshua P. Starr to the school board. There were 367 suspensions of Hispanic students this past school year, down from 611 the previous year.
According to the midyear data, the number of Hispanic student suspensions had fallen 29 percent from the previous year.
Suspensions of black students dropped 34.5 percent in the 2013-14 school year, when about 769 suspensions occurred — down from 1,175 in 2012-13.
In the first half of the school year, suspensions of black students dropped 28 percent from a year earlier, officials said in March.
Suspensions of white students fell 39 percent for the full year, which was the same percentage drop reported in the midyear data.
About 54 percent of all county high school suspensions this past year involved black students; 26 percent involved Hispanic students; 14 percent involved white students; and 4 percent involved students of East or South Asian descent.
Garran said that, after Starr charged them last summer to reduce suspensions, high schools addressed the issue on several fronts.
Principals also have monitored the issue more closely in their schools, he said.
Other strategies, Garran said, included talking directly with students, having students perform community service as a suspension alternative and improving staff’s ability to “de-escalate” situations.
Some of the bigger drops were seen at Col. Zadok Magruder High School in Rockville with 87 fewer suspensions; Northwood High School in Silver Spring with 70 fewer; and John F. Kennedy High School in Silver Spring, with 63 fewer.
Myriam Rogers, principal at Paint Branch High School in Silver Spring, attributed the improvement at her school — 41 fewer suspensions — in part to how staff learned strategies before the last school year for addressing inappropriate behavior and communicating with students without allowing the behavior to get worse.
“In that way, we were proactive about how we would choose to respond to students who made poor choices,” she said.
Rogers said she also saw more occasions of students “owning their actions” and making better choices regarding how they treated their peers and adults at the school.
Paint Branch also used alternatives to suspension, she said, including community service and written reflections by the students on their behavior.
Suspensions across the county’s 25 high schools were down 36.7 percent, according to Friday’s memo. Looking specifically at discretionary suspensions — versus nondiscretionary suspensions — the schools saw a decline of 49.3 percent.
“[The high schools] did exactly what they needed to do to keep kids in school and, more importantly, help them change some of their behaviors and learn from it,” Starr said.
Starr said the school system continues to face disproportionate numbers of suspensions among black and Hispanic students, especially boys. Schools must be “particularly attentive” to these student groups, he said.
The state school board adopted new regulations in January that will allow local school administrators more flexibility in determining suspensions. In the upcoming academic year, Garran said, county schools will no longer have nondiscretionary, or automatic, suspensions for certain major infractions.