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Racial disparities found in Loudoun’s suspension rates, gifted program involvement

Loudoun NAACP President Phillip Thompson speaks in front of the Loudoun County School Board Dec. 12 about diversity hiring. Times-Mirror/Veronike Collazo
A University of Pennsylvania study on race-based discipline disparities in southern states has found that students of color in Loudoun are suspended at higher rates than their white peers, and local parents have additional concerns about students of color’s access to Loudoun’s gifted program.

Moreover, as Loudoun’s student population becomes increasingly diverse, the teaching population has not followed suit.

Representatives from the Loudoun County NAACP and the Minority Student Achievement Advisory Committee (MSAAC) addressed the School Board last week to again express concerns over these issues and ask for an update on LCPS’ progress.

In the 2015-16 school year, 88 percent of Loudoun's teacher workforce was white, while 52 percent of the student body was white. In the 2016-17 school year, Loudoun’s minority population increased to 50 percent of the student body, whereas white teachers still made up 87.37 percent of the teaching population as of October 2016.

Many Loudoun parents are uneasy over these figures, in part because studies out of schools such as Harvard and Johns Hopkins University show students, especially students of color, benefit from having teachers of all backgrounds.

“It’s important for all students to see mentors and role models of all colors to help prepare students for a diverse world,” Loudoun parent Katrecia Nolen said.

Nolen said she remembered some School Board members making campaign promises on diversifying our school system, yet previous diversity task forces have given recommendations that have not been adopted.

“I don’t think it’s enough to hire diversity recruiters and take two years to extend optional unconscious bias training at every level,” Nolen said.

Though parents are still concerned at the rate minority teachers are hired, Loudoun NAACP President Phillip Thompson said the community has seen improvements. Still, Thompson said he’d like to see LCPS release more information on where young teachers that pass on LCPS are going, the quality of new hires and where in LCPS new hires are being placed. He said he’d like to work with LCPS to continue to find diverse candidates.

“We’re at this point that this county is going to continue to get more diverse. We’ve got a majority minority school system, and we’re headed toward a majority minority population,” Thompson said. “We need to step up and make sure our teachers and our administrators represent the community as well as we can, that we’re helping you move forward.”

Thompson also said he felt it was time the School Board revist the lack of LGBTQ protections in employee anti-discrimination policy and student anti-harassment policy.

“Everyone saw what happened in November election. Virginia voted for diversity, so I hope that some of you that have to run for election can see that and step up and take care of this issue,” Thompson said.

Rob Frye and VonEnde Coleman also spoke on how black, Hispanic and Native American students are underrepresented in LCPS’ gifted program.

Frye said in comparing data from the 2012-13 school year to current data, not much progress has been made in LCPS’ goal to have equitable representation of all groups in the gifted program.

The Minority Student Achievement Advisory Committee recommends the School Board expand implementation of the Empowering Diversity in Gifted Education (EDGE) and EDGE Plus program in LCPS, where data demonstrates an under-representation. EDGE aims to support growth in elementary school children of historically underrepresented minority groups in the gifted programs. Additionally, it recommends all teachers and decision-makers participate in unconscious bias training to ensure the selection and evaluation process is equitable to all students.

Coleman also said the group recommends the School Board work proactively with the Minority Student Achievement Advisory Committee and other parent advisory groups to fully understand concerns and challenges facing students with regards to their access to gifted services so future School Board and LCPS decisions reflect a more comprehensive understanding of these issues.

“According to the National Association of Gifted Children, giftedness exists in every demographic by group and personality type,” Coleman said. “Adults must look harder to discover potential and support gifted students as they reach for their personal best. The longer it takes to address this issue about selection criteria, identification and referrals, the longer we continue to undervalue our diverse talent pool.”

In addition to improvements in hiring, the school system has also seen improvements in the discipline disparity between white and non-white students. According to the University of Pennsylvania survey, black students specifically were being suspended in Loudoun at a rate three times higher that what would be proportional to their population size.

The study was based on 2015-2016 data, and LCPS staff says there have been improvements since then.

According to the study, zero tolerance policies and implicit bias can contribute to a disparity on the rate students of color are suspended and expelled compared to white counterparts. Students with disabilities are also suspended and expelled at higher rates than students without disabilities.

Debbie Rose (Algonkian) chairs the LCPS Discipline Committee. File Photo

According to LCPS data, black students in Loudoun are suspended 1.45 times more than white counterparts and students with disabilities are suspended 2.53 times more than students without disabilities.

Compared to the surrounding divisions of Alexandria, Arlington, Chesterfield, Fairfax, Prince William and Virginia Beach, Loudoun has the lowest disparity between black and white students and the second-lowest disparity between students with disabilities and students without disabilities.

Several years ago, LCPS introduced the Restorative Practice program as part of a larger effort toward Positive Behavior Intervention and Supports (PBIS). The idea behind the program is to prevent negative behaviors while giving teachers and administrators an alternative to suspending students for minor offenses. Restorative Practices give students an opportunity to get to the root of the issue and find closure, as opposed to suspending one or all parties, which disrupts student’s education and does not solve the root issue, according to advocates.

Loudoun students saved 88 days through the use of Restorative Practice instead of suspension in the 2016-17 school year, according to LCPS staff.

LCPS staff thanked Debbie Rose (Algonkian) for her work as chairwoman of the Discipline Committee in getting the school system to where it is in reducing overall suspension rates and disparity rates.

“Years ago when we started this journey on this, this was a big issue for me, discipline reform. It was something I heard a lot in my community and it took and we have come so far,” School Board Discipline Committee Chairman Debbie Rose (Algonkian) said. “I think this is why it’s important to have these training sessions throughout our calendar, because it’s helpful to get all of our educators and employees during the school year to help them. Everybody needs refreshers or new learning opportunities so that we can continue to better ourselves in this endeavor.”

Eric DeKenipp (Catoctin) said he was concerned the shift to PBIS and Restorative Practice conferences inadvertently puts pressure on administrators to not increase office referrals and suspensions.

“There is a fear among our administrators and our staff countywide -- this isn’t just one or two – to report student misconduct, out of fear of negatively impacting the results that we’re receiving here today,” DeKenipp said.

Jill Turgeon (Blue Ridge) said she is supportive of PBIS and saw it make a difference when she taught elementary school, but she has also heard similar concerns as DeKenipp.

Board Chairman Jeff Morse (Dulles) voiced support for the programs, especially the unconscious bias training, saying it is a step in the right direction.

Rose said she has included school principals in her committee meetings to hear how the programs are working and what issues and concerns have yet to be addressed. Though LCPS looks to reduce the suspension rates, she said principals aren’t turning a blind eye to issues that need to be addressed.

“They’re not walking away from behavior that needs to be addressed in a building, and I’m very supportive of that,” Rose said. “ When a situation warrants a response, there needs to be the proper response.”

Still, DeKenipp challenged the Discipline Committee to put out an anonymous survey for teachers and administrators to answer honestly.

Statistics on school safety and discipline are available through the Virginia Department of Education. A report on the 2016-17 school year is not yet available.


If part of the problem is the applicant pool is insufficiently diverse, affirmative action could be taken to advertise the vacancies in places minority teachers might be more likely to learn of them. But I’m not sure I would want a policy that gave absolute preference to an African-American applicant over an otherwise better qualified European-American.

So glad we have a brother like Phil Thompson battling to ensure Loudoun County erases its white power racist past and puts more people of color in key positions.  We need to be more open and diverse like New York and California

PacerGuy - If diverse points out a person’s person’s background and upbringing why then is the focus on how many teachers are white compared to students?

In the 2015-16 school year, 88 percent of Loudoun’s teacher workforce was white, while 52 percent of the student body was white. In the 2016-17 school year, Loudoun’s minority population increased to 50 percent of the student body, whereas white teachers still made up 87.37 percent of the teaching population as of October 2016.

Well pacerguy just read the article, it’s right there.
Diversity is the code for social justice, simple as that, won’t fix a thing. Hire good teachers and fire the bad ones, now there’s a novel concept.
As far as disproportionate suspensions, generally stereotypes are stereotypes for a reason, just saying.


Can you point to me in the article where LCPS says they want to find candidates of a specific skin color? Pretty sure diverse refers to a person’s background and upbringing. Could mean more teachers with a white trailer park background or Asian teachers who grew up in India without indoor plumbing.

It’s well known that LCPS treats special education kids as a burden. Why else would they spend millions of taxpayer dollars on upgrading football fields instead of hiring more ABA therapists?
LCPS is especially hostile towards the parents of Asian special education kids and routinely try to take advantage of them in IEP meetings.
And who knows about LCPS’ disciplinary process? One assistant principal at an elementary school is racist towards Asians and was complained about…no transparency and no idea if this person was ever reprimanded in any way.

The more diverse we become the worse our schools get, could it be diversity itself is to blame?

I almost don’t know where to start with this.

It is clear that the point of this “article” was to reinforce and support Thompson and the NAACP…this has consistently been the case since he started (in his zeal to find something, anything to be upset about) to go after LCPS.  And, believe me, I’ll go after them too when I think it’s justified.

Throughout the article, individual statements are taken as representative of an entire community.  My favorite…“parents are concerned” is followed by a quote from…wait for it…ONE count’em ONE parent. Has Thompson produced even dozens, let alone hundreds, of concerned minority parents to march on the Board? Nope? When a bad redistricting plan gets offered, entire neighborhoods turn up at the Board at the drop of a hat…there simply is no real community anger about this, or the numbers would be there.

I don’t know what I find more disappointing, the use of a great organization like the NAACP for one man’s personal aggrandizement or the fact that LTM takes whatever he says at face value.  Nearly every single “statistic” in the article could and should be subject to cold, sober examination and is not.  Statements, stats, and assertions are passed off as facts. 

This is not journalism—this is running a press release and sticking your name on it. 

And, more importantly, this is not a real issue:  not when common sense and practice demonstrates that every conceivable effort is being made to hire as many minority candidates as quickly as possible…how could it be anything different in any NOVA school district in 2017.

Oh, and BTW, another stat that should have been examined…disabled student suspension rates are higher?  No kidding, Sherlock.  As the father of two disabled kids…of course their rates are higher since much of the time their disabilities are manifested in poor behavior. 

See what I mean—it took just a couple of seconds to read and think about it to debunk the thought that there is some massive conspiracy against disabled students.  Stats being manipulated to further a political agenda is the kind of thing that happens all the time—you should, however, expect responsible journalism to deal with it.

That didn’t happen here—which was disappointing, skewed and highly unfortunate.

More information to the public is never a bad thing. LCPS should collect and publish more info on its applicant pool as well as anonymous surveys about how the discipline policies are viewed.

So many issues - so little time:
1 Asian students have the least representation on LCPS staff
2 Mentoring assumes that highly experienced teachers actually work in the same school that has a high degree of diverse students - NOT TRUE! LCPS has a long standing transfer policy that allows teachers to follow their favorite principals meaning that if this school board asked for a study of teacher cost and experience per school they would find out (as we did when I asked for such a study to be done) that there is a dramatic difference in experience among schools so how do you guarantee mentoring when the majority of highly experienced teachers are not is Algonkian or Sterling as obvious examples.
3 The Superintendent does not have a firm (less pay for failure) requirement to fix this problem nor does he have a yearly or even bi-yearly contract to insure this issue as well as other critical ones (such as bullying reduction) are addressed in a timely fashion.
4 There are many more qualified teacher candidates who apply than are hired by LCPS so what would be worthwhile would be to do a demographic review over time of each principal (the final hiring decision maker) to see who was put in front of that principal, what was decided and why.
Bob Ohneiser Esq.

“He said he’d like to work with LCPS to continue to find diverse candidates…”  I was always taught that skin color didn’t matter.  I guess that was incorrect.

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