cities · Inclusion · Massachusetts · Neurodiversity · Politics · Public education

School Discipline for Students with Disabilities in Northampton, MA

I’ve been involved with a group of first grade parent whose children attend Bridge Street School in Northampton, MA. We are advocating for greater resources for the school to ameliorate the “chaotic” implementation of its new inclusion/co-teaching model, Welcoming Inclusion in Northampton Schools (WINS).   Parents of children who receive special education services have discussed their options for improving inclusion at the school and have received some advice from the Disability Law Center of Massachusetts. This led me to a study by the Civil Rights Project at UCLA on school discipline in Massachusetts.  The 2017 report, Suspended Education in Massachusetts, advocates for using days of lost instruction as a measurable accountability indicator of school climate, arguing it is more informative about disciplinary disparities among sub-populations and more illustrative of the types of behaviors that are disciplined, versus using suspension rates as indicators. The report analyzed every school and district in Massachusetts, and includes supplemental excel sheets for download (at link) of all the data for all schools and districts.

The report finds:

The statewide average was 16 days of missed instruction for every 100 enrolled students. This number doubles to 32 days per 100 for students with disabilities and black students missed 34 days per 100. That was more than triple the 10 days missed by white students. When only days missed for minor misbehavior were counted, behaviors that according to the state were non-violent, non-drug related and non-criminal, white students still lost 6 days per 100 enrolled while black students lost 21 days per 100 enrolled and students with disabilities lost 19 days. Minor misbehaviors were the driving reason for most of their lost instruction.

I’ve gone through the report and the data to make some rough comparisons.  The tables below show how Northampton performs compared to the rest of Mass. One bright spot is that Northampton has not disciplined any of its 77 Black students in 2015-2016 (black students are 3% of the district population.) The bad news is that discipline for students with disabilities is troubling in multiple ways – scroll down for the final two tables:

ALL MASS DISTRICTS: 2015-2016 Stu-dents Students Disci-plined % Disci-plined % Black Stu. # Black Stu. # Black Disc. % Black Disc.
Median: 1,396 38 3% 3% 41 3 7%
Average: 2,453 104 4% 9% 229 24 10%
Northampton: 2,767 75 3% 3% 77 0
# of Missed Days per 100 students: 7 0
ALL MASS DISTRICTS: 2015-2016 Stu-dents Students Disci-plined % Disci-plined % White Stu. # White Stu. # White Disc. % White Disc.
Median: 1,396 38 3% 75% 1,042 23 2%
Average: 2,453 104 4% 62% 1,513 42 3%
Northampton: 2,767 75 1% 69% 1,907 42 2%
# of Missed Days per 100 students: 7 7
ALL MASS DISTRICTS: 2015-2016 # Stu-dents Stu. Disci-plined % Disci-plined % SWD # SWD # SWD Disc. % SWD Disc.
Median: 1,396 38 3% 18% 251 14 6%
Average: 2,453 104 4% 18% 446 36 8%
Northampton: 2,767 75 3% 21% 594 43 7%
# of Missed Days per 100 students: 7 25

Students with disabilities in Northampton schools endure 25 days of school missed per 100 students, compared to only 7 missed days for all students in the district.  What’s more, students with disabilities represent 57% of the 75 students who were suspended in Northampton in 2015-2016, which is a much higher rate than the median and average for MA school districts.

% suspended who are… W B SWD
Med., MA Dists. 61% 8% 37%
Avg., MA Dists. 41% 23% 35%
Northampton 56% 0% 57%

At the school level, most of the suspensions in Northampton happen in middle and high school.  20% of suspensions happen in elementary school, with a troubling 9 of 15 occurring at Ryan Road Elementary, representing 4% of its elementary school population.  What’s also worrisome is that at Bridge Street, where 1 in 3 students have a disability, and at Ryan Road, where more than 1 in 4 do, students with disabilities are one-half to two-thirds of children who are suspended (2 of the 4 children at Bridge, 6 of the 9 children at Ryan Road).  At Ryan Road, that means 9% of all the disabled children have been suspended.  At JFK Middle School and Northampton High School, more than 1 in 10 disabled children have been suspended; students with disabilities comprise 56-61% of suspended children in those schools.

Although these #s are overall small, they demonstrate that our small city that prides itself on progressive culture and politics is still disproportionately punishing and removing from school its disabled student body.   This is unacceptable.  Some of us involved in our WINS advocacy are learning a lot about a school district to which we’re relatively new, detecting more areas for improvement than anticipated, whether measured by test scores, culture and climate, or inclusion.  We want all of our children to succeed in school and we want our community and district to live up to its reputation of welcoming and being inclusive of children with disabilities.  This 2015 data confirms that we have much work to do to realize this vision.


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