Even though only 18 attended Del Norte County public schools last year, the county was among the top five in the state when it comes to the unduplicated suspension rates for black male students, according to a report from San Diego State University and the University of California, Los Angeles.

The report, “Get Out! Black Male Suspensions in California Public Schools,” states that although black male suspensions statewide have declined from 18 percent in 2011-12 to 13 percent last year, rates are still disproportionate compared to California’s overall student population.

The report further states rural counties with small black male enrollments had the highest suspension rates in the state last year with Del Norte County, at a rate of 22.2 percent, coming in fourth from the top behind Colusa, Amador and Glenn counties.

According to the report, Glenn County had the highest 2016-17 unduplicated suspension rate for black male students at 42.9 percent out of 14 students. Tehama County, with rate of 20.8 percent out of 53 students, rounded out the top 5.

Del Norte County Unified School District Superintendent Jeff Harris said although it’s concerning when any student is suspended, there are so few African American students attending local schools that the suspension rate for black male students only reflects a fraction of the district’s entire enrollment.

According to Harris, out of the 18 black male students in Del Norte County schools last year, only four were suspended.

““When we start looking at numbers that are very small, like four students, when we have that conversation, while I am concerned about percentage and while I am concerned the number is there, looking at one half of one subgroup and then calling out a suspension for four of those students, I think, distracts from the bigger conversation around what are we doing for each child,” Harris said. “What are we doing for the child in poverty, who’s foster, who’s homeless, who’s Native American, who’s Hmong, who’s an English language learner?”

J. Luke Wood, co-director of the San Diego State University Community College Equity Assessment Lab, co-authored the report with his colleague Frank Harris III, co-director of San Diego State University Community College Equity Assessment, and Tyrone C. Howard, director of the Black Male Institute at the University of California, Los Angeles.

The study singled out black male students because they are more exposed to exclusionary discipline, especially during early childhood, but Wood said the issue is a black student issue and a student of color issue.

“Black males just tend to serve as an indicator for how things are faring for other groups because of the juxtaposition in general of black males in society,” Wood said, adding that the report’s statistical data came from the California Department of Education. “One of the reasons we called the report ‘Get Out’ — there’s a movie called ‘Get Out,’ Jordan Peele directed it — is because typically when a teacher ejects a student from the learning environment they say ‘Get out!’ That’s what’s taking place with black boys in Del Norte County, in Tehama County and as well as in Los Angeles and San Diego county.”

Wood said “Get Out!” seeks to shed light on the disproportionate number of black male students that get suspended in rural areas. Most efforts to shine a light on the disproportionate number of African American students suspended tend to focus on areas with a high student population such as Los Angeles and the Bay Area, Wood said.

According to the California Department of Education’s Data Quest page, out of a cumulative enrollment of 42 African American students at Del Norte County Unified School District in 2016-17, 19 percent were suspended.

The total number of suspensions among African American students was 15, according to the Data Quest. The total unduplicated count of African American students suspended from Del Norte last year was eight, according to Data Quest.

Overall, 8.4 percent of Del Norte County Unified School District students were suspended last year out of a total cumulative enrollment of 3,962, according to Data Quest

Even though the population of African American students is low in counties like Del Norte, Wood said the high suspension rates should be more concerning because it represents a small demographic of students that is being routinely suspended and possibly put into a situation where they feel isolated.

Wood also noted suspension rates of black male students in Glenn, Amador, Colusa, Del Norte and Tehama counties increased dramatically from the 2011-12 school year to the 2016-17 school year.

“We don’t get into why that might be, (but) I think personally it’s part of a larger political climate, it’s the reverberation of language filtering down to K12,” Wood said. “As somebody who grew up and was raised in a more rural county, I come from Siskiyou County, I’ve seen how these patterns play out.”

Wood said he was suspended 42 times when he was in the fifth grade, spending most of his time in the library or the principal’s office. He noted that many times suspensions are never documented because instead of actually being sent home, students are told to sit in the principal’s office until the end of the school day. Under reporting also takes place, Wood said.

Suspension was once the go-to form of discipline for many school systems, Harris said, with some seeing it as a time out for the student, the class and the teacher. In Del Norte, however, district staff is working to make suspension a last resort, Harris said.

Harris noted there are some infractions that require suspension but for others a student may be sent to another room to complete their school work.

“That has been put into assertive discipline so we can track those instances — we do want to know how many times a child is having a behavioral issue,” Harris said. “Those are put in as a suspension from class, but they’re not being suspended and sent home, they’re being sent to another room at school with work they just received.”

Other alternatives to suspension include Saturday school, lunch or after school detention, and at some campuses, like Margaret Keating Elementary School, older students are learning peer mediation so they can help their younger peers resolve conflicts they may have with their classmates, Harris said.

Harris also noted that with so few students spread out among elementary, junior high and high school, it’s difficult to have a club or another program that can offer support to Del Norte’s black students.

“The short answer is we try to provide enough for every student so they can find somewhere to plug into,” Harris said. “The long answer is there’s probably more work to be done as we dig in because we’re really reaching out for student voice, which is not something historically done in schools generally.”

Wood said he and his colleagues will author similar reports on an annual basis to hold counties and districts accountable. He said he’s hoping this will lead to better training on unconscious bias, microaggression and the teaching practices to boys of color.

Most educators aren’t prepared to work with a population that doesn’t look like them, Wood noted. That’s why training is important. He said he hopes to show that in three years Del Norte County’s once-concerning suspension rate of black male students has declined, which would be something to celebrate.

“I think the main thing is don’t dismiss (the report) because of the numbers, because those numbers are just data points,” he said. “They represent people and they represent experiences. We’re creating certain experiences for certain students that are very marginalized and isolated.”

To read “Get Out! Black Male Suspensions in California Public Schools” visit blackmaleinstitute.org/wp-content/uploads/2018/02/GET-OUT-Black-Male-Suspensions-in-California-Public-Schools_lo.pdf.

Reach Jessica Cejnar at jcejnar@triplicate.com .