SMMUSD HDQTRS — The suspension rate fell in 2009 compared with the year before, but minority students in the Santa Monica-Malibu Unified School District continued to account for a disproportionate percentage of suspensions, according to a district report released this month.

The suspension rate declined at each district secondary school except for Lincoln Middle School, where the rate nearly doubled, the report stated.

Overall, “at nearly every secondary school, students of color are over-represented in suspension incidents,” the report concluded.

At John Adams Middle School, for instance, African American students made up 11 percent of the student body but accounted for 25 percent of all suspension incidents during the 2008-2009 school year. Latino students made up 52 percent of the student body and accounted for 64 percent of suspension incidents, while white students made up 34 percent of students but accounted for just 11 percent of suspension incidents. Asian students made 4 percent of the student body but did not account for any suspensions at the school.

School Board Member Oscar de la Torre said the report shows that despite the district’s step of forming a task force to address the achievement gap, “the problem of institutional racism is still relevant today.”

He said he believes that “race and ethnicity are factors in the degree of punishment and also the degree of consequences for the same infraction.”

Other district officials denied the charge.

School Board President Barry Snell said he did not believe that the higher incidence of suspensions among minority students reflected racial bias within the district.

He said he expects the school board to discuss the final report from the district’s Task Force on the Achievement of Students of Color this summer.

The report, which came out in 2008 but hasn’t yet been discussed by the board, urged the district to review its discipline practices and to “analyze patterns of referrals, suspensions, and expulsions to ensure that discipline creates meaningful and sustained intervention rather than practices that are merely punitive and dismissive.”

The task force report also stated: “Students and families must perceive district discipline practices as fair, equitable and effective.”

SMMUSD Chief Academic Officer Sally Chou said the data showing minority students were more likely to be suspended was a concern, but noted there are many factors that contribute to discipline issues at school so it’s difficult to attribute the trend to a single cause. She said the data were not evidence that district administrators treat students unequally in discipline decisions, but added the findings nevertheless should be taken seriously.

“Every time you look at this, you always go back and do self assessment,” she said.

nickt@smdp.com