Jefferson City Public Schools has been cleared by the state of some culpability for a racial disparity in the district's discipline of students, but the district acknowledged it has more questions to answer.
Chief of Learning Brian Shindorf shared Monday night with the Board of Education that a completed, comprehensive review by the Department of Elementary and Secondary Education found "the significant discrepancy" in the rate of black students with disabilities who were suspended or expelled for more than 10 days in a school year "is not the result of inappropriate district policies, procedures or practices."
"That doesn't mean we don't have work to do," Shindorf said, despite the good news.
He presented the board with new data from a discipline review he did, "that is no way to be a determination by any means, but it is, I believe, data that will help us to look a little bit further and answer some of the questions that we have."
He looked at the 4,663 office referrals for the first semester of the 2017-18 school year, from the first day of school until Christmas break, and reviewed the 3,286 referrals represented by what he deemed the 11 most significant reasons for students being sent to the office: alcohol, assault, drugs, fighting, physical contact, sexual misconduct, threats/verbal assault, weapons, bullying, disrespect to staff, and disruptive conduct or speech.
"If (students) came (to the office) for the same reason, did we treat them fairly or equitably?" he said of the scope and the limits of the specific question he aimed to answer with his review.
"Assault happened to be the biggest discrepancy I found between white students and non-white students," he said, meaning 96 percent of black students in the district who were referred to a school office for assault received an out of school suspension, compared to 54 percent of white students.
Overall, at least out of the 11 types of offenses listed, the district's disciplinary outcomes were pretty consistent. Out of all the times black students were sent to a school office for any of the 11 listed offenses, they received an out-of-school suspension 16 percent of the time, compared to 15 percent for white students, 16 percent for multi-racial students and 11 percent for Hispanic students.
There are lots of complications to immediately note, however.
Shindorf said not all reasons for office referrals are equal, even in one category of assault, for example. Assault doesn't exactly describe what one student did versus another who was cited for the same offense. The determination of what's assault versus fighting or physical contact is ultimately up to the principal entering data at a school.
The data also doesn't take into consideration the severity of the consequences some students received versus others. The numbers show how many times students were disciplined one way versus another, but not how many days each disciplinary action lasted, or whether students were equitably given the same consequences on their first, second or a subsequent offense.
Shindorf also ran the numbers for the three most common types of offenses that represented 89 percent of the times a students was referred to an office: physical contact, disrespect to staff and disruptive conduct. For those offenses, black students received an out-of-school suspension 10.48 percent of the time, white students 10.66 percent of the time, multi-racial students 12.76 percent of the time and Hispanic students 6.8 percent of the time.
"We still have a couple of issues. We have too many kids being inappropriate at school. We also know that we still have a larger percentage of black students going to the office over other races. This was just to determine whether we're being fair and consistent and equitable in terms of out of school suspension. That's all this report does, nothing else," Shindorf said.
Most of the rest of the board's business Monday night had to do with continued work on the district's two high school projects.
Architects Alliance's Principal Architect Cary Gampher shared a set of milestone dates with the board for when certain design and construction documents are expected to be submitted.
The major earthwork of grading terrain at the site of the second high school is expected to commence soon; the civil package is due next week.
Groundbreaking of the second high school is planned for 11 a.m. Feb. 10.
The board unanimously approved $5 million of pollution insurance coverage at a premium of $66,003; the option selected has a $50,000 deductible.
The board also unanimously approved $120 million of builder's risk insurance coverage at a premium of $128,400. Builder's risk insurance covers things like construction trailers, crane re-erections, water damage, earthquakes, floods, named storms, debris removal, fire protective equipment refills and prevention of access to a construction site. Coverage limits vary per type of incident.