Efforts to reduce school suspensions have stalled across Massachusetts, according to a report issued Thursday that calls upon school systems to recommit themselves to the work.
“While a plateau is better than an increase, far too many students are still being removed from instruction, particularly for minor incidents,” the report found. The study also pointed to wide gaps that persist in the punishment received by students of different backgrounds.
Just under 4 percent of students were disciplined during the 2016-17 school year, down from 5.6 percent in 2012, according to the report, Unfinished Business, which was prepared by the Lawyers’ Committee for Civil Rights and Economic Justice.
While that decrease is a sizable improvement, the report found that black students lost more than three times the number of instructional days to discipline as white students, and Latino students missed 2.6 times the number of instructional days to discipline as white students did. Those rates, however, represent an improvement from 2012.
Students with disabilities and those learning English fluency also experienced a disproportionate rate of school discipline, the most serious being out-of-school suspensions.
“We need a greater push at this time to deepen and expand practices of school discipline fairness, particularly when it comes to the most vulnerable students,” said Ivan Espinoza-Madrigal, executive director of the lawyers’ committee.
Of particular concern, he said, is that 47 percent of school suspensions were meted out for minor infractions, such as dress code violations. Among the biggest offenders in this area, he said, were charter schools, many of which long have had reputations for strict disciplinary practices.
The report also found that emergency removals, typically for weapons, drugs, assaults, and other criminal matters, skyrocketed, jumping from 460 instances in the 2014-15 school year to 2,600 in 2016-17.
Also, Wareham, Fall River, and Holyoke had the highest disciplinary rates among traditional school systems.
James Vaznis can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org.