Education

Bristol-Warren schools again under fire for racist policies

“Black students were disproportionately suspended by immense margins compared to their fellow white students,” writes the ACLU of Rhode Island, after analyzing the data.
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Published on December 6, 2021
By Steve Ahlquist

Black students in the Bristol-Warren School District are over three-and-a-half times more likely to get suspended, and Black students at Mt. Hope High School are five times more likely to be suspend, than their white peers, notes the ACLU of Rhode Island in a letter to the Bristol-Warren School Committee.

The Bristol-Warren School District has also apparently failed to file a report identifying these disparities and outlining a strategy to mitigate them, as is required by state law.

The Bristol Warren School Committee has come under fire from some community members and from the Mt. Hope Student Union for rejecting a grant that would have focused on supporting Black and brown students in the district, with some on the committee claiming that such programs should treat all students equally, without regard to race.

“We trust that the committee will be as deeply distressed about these racial disparities in school discipline and recognize the need to act expeditiously to address the issue,” writes ACLU of Rhode Island Executive Director Steven Brown and Policy Associate Hannah Stern. “The continued implementation of a disciplinary system that has such a disparate impact based on students’ race is clearly not a system providing equal opportunities to students.”

Examining data for both the Bristol-Warren School District generally and for Mt. Hope High School in particular for the last three full in-school years (2016- 2017, 2017-2018, and 2018-2019), the ACLU of Rhode Island determined that,

Black students were disproportionately suspended by immense margins compared to their fellow white students. For example, in 2018-2019, even though Black students made up only 2.2% of the school district’s population, over 8% of all out-of-school suspensions that year were given to Black students, meaning that they were over three-and-a-half times more likely to get suspended than their makeup in the school district population. White students, on the other hand, were less likely to be suspended than their presence in the school population would predict. Similarly disproportionate statistics apply for the previous two years. (White students made up 85.61% of the student body, but 70.97% of all suspensions.)

For Mt. Hope High School, the statistics (though examining an admittedly smaller population, but still demonstrating very consistent trends) are even more stark. In 2018-2019, even though Black students comprised only 1.9% of the student body, they were given 9% of all out of-school suspensions, meaning they received nearly five times the number of suspensions which would be expected for their student population. Once again, white students at the school represented a smaller part of the suspension population than their presence at the school would predict. As with the district-wide data referenced above, significantly disproportionate suspension figures for Black students at the high school were also present in the two prior school years.

In November the Mt. Hope Student Union took the Bristol-Warren School Committee to task for turning down the grant that focused on Black and brown students.

“What happened at the last meeting was racist, plain and simple,” said Mt. Hope High School Student and Mt Hope Student Union member Edda Petrillo. Speaking for the Mt Hope Student Union, Petrillo demanded that School Committee members Marjorie McBride, Tara Thibaudeau and Sheila Ellsworth immediately step down. As of this writing, all three members are still in place.

The Bristol-Warren School Committee also faced backlash in July from the Rhode Island Jewish community over their refusal to adjust the beginning of the school year by one day to accommodate the needs of Jewish children and families. At that time Rabbi Barry Dolinger, President of the Board of Rabbis of Greater Rhode Island said that the Bristol-Warren School committee “clearly fails in its mandate to understand what public school education is all about. One wonders with the lack of civility, with the lack of understanding of pluralism – Are these people fit to continue to serve?”

Here’s the letter.

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