Black students in Clarke County and across the state are more likely than their white colleagues to be suspended from school, according to district-by-district suspension data requested by the Georgia NAACP. About 38 percent of the students in Georgia's 180 public school districts are black, but black students account for 67 percent of suspensions, according to numbers reported to the state Department of Education.
The numbers - which are similar in the Clarke County School District - alarm some leaders of the NAACP, who are urging parents and school officials to take a closer look to find out why blacks are suspended in such high numbers.
"One would hope that the percentage of enrollment is relatively equivalent to the number of suspensions," said Jennifer Falk, state education chairwoman for the Georgia State Conference NAACP. "And so that's the question we're asking is it out of whack? Whatever the discussion ends up being, there should be data to support it."
In Clarke County last year, 55 percent of students were black, but 80 percent of the district's 1,740 suspensions were meted out to blacks. White students, who make up 20 percent of the 12,000-student system, had 5.4 percent of all suspensions.
Of all students suspended, 86 percent are poor.
Students who come from poverty tend to have more behavioral problems than others, but poverty by itself does not explain the entire issue, NAACP leaders say.
"Why, I don't know," said Rick Dunn, the Clarke County School District's graduation coach coordinator. "I won't say it's racism. It is what it is."
While the disparity is less pronounced in surrounding school systems, black students still are more likely to face suspension as discipline than white students, according to the report, which covered the 2007-08 school year.
In neighboring Oconee County, black students represented 5 percent of enrollment but took 20 percent of the district's 189 suspensions. White students made up 85 percent of all students, representing 70 percent of all suspensions.
Only 3 percent of the school district's 6,600 students were suspended, and suspension remains a last resort or when a student commits an offense that isn't tolerated, like fighting or bringing weapons or drugs to school, said Mark Channell, Oconee's executive director for student services.
"We want students to remain in school so that they can learn; however, if they are being disruptive to the learning environment and keeping others from learning, we only have ISS (in-school suspension) and OSS (out-of-school suspension) as a means for keeping the learning environment just that ... a learning environment," Channell said in an e-mailed response.
Still, suspension can have severe consequences for students and lead to other problems down the road, Falk said.
"We need to make sure every child is in school and graduating," she said. "And this is obviously something that may be contributing to low graduation rates or dropout rates."
Next year, the Clarke County School District will attempt to keep suspended students engaged in school activities through a partnership with Timothy Baptist Church.
Suspended students would be required to attend a program called the Successfully Engaging Youth Day to get help on school work or receive tutoring in critical subjects, like reading, said church Elder Terris Thomas.
"Once the student returns to school, it will be a successful reintegration," Thomas said. "They'll go back and won't feel like they've lost seven or 10 days - they'll be able to turn in their homework and be able to reintegrate back into the classroom."
Of Clarke County's 1,740 suspensions, 1,392 went to black students and 94 went to white students. Males received 67 percent of suspensions, and more than half were between ages 10 to 15.
SEE THE DATA
Click here to see a PDF of the discipline reports for every county school system in Georgia.