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Duval Schools referrals drop by half, but Black boys still most likely to be disciplined

The district's mid-year discipline report reviews the first 100 days of the new school year compared to previous school years.

JACKSONVILLE, Fla. — This school year, the number of infractions reported within Duval County Public Schools has decreased by more than half compared to the same time last year, new data shows. But even during a pandemic, Black boys are disciplined more often than any other group of students within the school district.

The district's mid-year discipline report, which reviews the first 100 days of the new school year compared to previous school years, revealed some trends including: 

  • Boy students historically receive more infractions than girl students
  • Black students receive more referrals and infractions than any other subgroup 
  • The number of infractions so far this school year has dropped by more than half versus last year 
  • Most infractions are given to students who have already been cited with multiple infractions 
  • Unauthorized absences are the leading citation district-wide 

"Unfortunately, as this data shows, we continue to see disparities between Black males and their peers in some areas," said Ronnie King, who leads Jacksonville's Urban Education Symposium — a program that focuses on reclaiming young, Black males for Jacksonville’s future.  "We understand the past 14 months have been challenging for everyone and can only imagine the strain it has put on DCPS. However, we applaud the district for making this information available and we are interested in having a follow-up discussion with DCPS to get further clarity of the data presented."  

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Jackie Simmons, the school district's Executive Director of Discipline and Student Support says individual schools and the district have access to quarterly data about infractions and discipline with the ability to dissect the numbers by subgroup, race, gender, grade level, school and more. 

“Now that we have these things, we know these facts, we know these numbers, we know some are good, some are not so good," he said. "So what are we going to do about it?"

He added that schools in tandem with the district have several intervention and support services they review to see what is most effective. 

Those services include the district's restorative justice program, which saw a spike in participation last school year climbing from 8,807 in the 2018-19 school year to 13,983 in the 2019-20 school year. Simmons says the higher program numbers are an indicator that alternative programs are working instead of traditional discipline. 

“Over the last five years we’ve looked at how we’re rethinking discipline," Simmons said. "Discipline has a negative connotation associated with it and we want to make sure that students’ experiences in schools are positive as much as we can." 

Simmons said that alternative discipline and intervention tactics — such as the check-in/check-out program, which focuses on building a one-on-one relationship between a student and a trusted adult at school — have proven effective and have contributed to a downtick in infractions this school year. 

Read more from the Florida Times-Union here.

The numbers so far

So far this school year, mid-year data shows a lofty dip in infractions reported with 19,428 infractions documented by the 100-day mark. For context, last school year, there were 47,798 infractions documented by the 100-day mark. 

Still, this year and last year were non-traditional school years because of the coronavirus pandemic.

The first 100 days of the 2019-20 school year included months of full-time in-person instruction, immediately followed by fully remote instruction because of the pandemic. And the 2020-21 school year started with about one third of students participating in distance learning. 

Simmons cautions that some of the mid-year data may be skewed because of those variances. It's unclear how the infraction numbers look when in-person versus online students are separated. 

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Callie Lackey — the founder and Executive Director of Hope Street Inc., an organization that brings trauma-informed teaching practices to schools in Duval County — says that the number of infractions this school year and last school year may also be indicative of how trauma and the coronavirus pandemic can impact a student's performance. 

"Kiddos living in toxic stress and trauma are expected to come to school and leave it at the door, and what we are clearly seeing here is an inability to do just that," Lackey told the Times-Union. "[They] need a safe space and relationships to not be OK. Schools can be that haven through increased trauma sensitive awareness, knowledge, and tools for meeting the complex needs of children with heavy historical backpacks."

Still, even during the pandemic, Simmons says this year's data shows some clear patterns and trends. 

For example, out of the 19,428 infractions recorded this school year, nearly three-quarters of the student population has been cited for multiple infractions.

  • 56.9 percent of the student population has at least one recorded infraction
  • 43.1 percent of the student population have multiple infractions
  • 74.1 percent of all infractions were given to students with multiple infractions

"That means we really have to pay attention to students who get one referral or multiple referrals and look to make sure we're making their experience a good one," Simmons said.

Top 10 infractions in Duval Schools

Every year, Duval Schools' Discipline and Student Support department looks at the top 10 infractions throughout the district. 

The top 10 infractions account for 78 percent of the infractions reported. Simmons says better identifying and understanding the most common infractions helps faculty and staff when they need to intervene. 

"When you're talking about numbers and target areas, this gives schools a good opportunity to look at what they need to do individually and it gives us an opportunity to look at how we can help," he said. 

This school year, the top three infractions were: 

  • Unauthorized absence (18.6 percent)
  • Disruption in class (13.2 percent)
  • Failure to adhere to safety considerations (10.5 percent) 

The tenth most common infraction was intentionally striking a student (3.9 percent). 

Read more from the Florida Times-Union here.

Race, subgroup and gender 

To better understand how to effectively intervene, Simmons says the district breaks down infraction data by race, subgroup, gender and other classifications. 

"We begin to have those conversations with regional leadership on how we can be of assistance," he said. "We try to make sure we’re touching all groups, all people, from regional leadership to teachers." 

Disciplinary data shows that historically, boy students receive more infractions than girl students, regardless of the school year or severity of the infraction. 

In the 2018-19 school year, boy infractions outnumbered girl infractions by almost 50 percent (30,632 to 15,951). This school year, boys have received 12,921 infractions while girls have received 6,507 within the first 100 school days. 

“It doesn’t matter what the year is, males are getting more infractions than females," Simmons said. 

Data also shows that African American students receive more referrals and infractions than any other subgroup even when compared against the subgroup's total population as a percentage. 

“It’s no mystery that African Americans are getting more referrals and are getting more suspensions and consequences," Simmons said. "In looking at our continuum through our practices and the buy-in we’re getting, our out-of-school suspension rates have started a downward trend." 

According to school district data, 2,717 suspensions this school year were out-of-school versus an in-school alternative. The same time last year, 6,479 suspensions were out-of-school. 

In-school suspensions are preferable according to Simmons because when students are at home and out of class, it's harder to educate them. 

"We also know that if we don’t get to the core root of the problem even if they’re suspended and come back, we’ll have to deal with whatever underlying issues is going on," he said. "So we try to deal with those simultaneously. The drop over the years has been really good in addition to our use of within-school programs." 

Intervention programs 

Duval Schools also tracks data relating to how issues are fixed and targeted. 

As part of a push to rethink discipline, the district offers alternative programs including restorative justice, night-time substance abuse programs, virtual classes and more. 

Lackey calls those programs essential for a student's potential.

District data shows an increase in program participants over the years, with the caveat that this school year's data is only for the first 100 days and began under a hybrid model with most students attending virtual school. 

The number of students participating in Duval Schools' restorative justice program increased from 4,234 in the 2015-16 school year to 13,983 for the 2019-20 school year. So far this year, the district reported 7,828 participants. 

Restorative justice is an approach to dealing with crime and misbehavior. It shifts the focus from punitive to a dialogue about the problems. In a school setting, restorative justice programs use groups of student mediators to deal with misbehaviors. 

The district also reported a trending increase in the number of families referred to its nighttime substance use prevention programs as well as the number of participants in its Student Options For Success program, an after-school social skills education program for parents and students. 

Though the 100-day report is made available at School Board workshop meetings, Simmons says he and his team are constantly reviewing these trends. 

He calls the mid-year report a "recharge." 

“This is the time of year where we really get ramped up and make sure we’re doing all the right things,” he said. 

Emily Bloch is an education reporter for The Florida Times-Union. Follow her on Twitter or email her.

Read more from the Florida Times-Union here.


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