Report says black students in NC receive harsher punishments than white counterparts

When looking at your child's school, parents have questions about what really happens after the bell rings. Are they getting the education they need? Are they being treated fairly?

Those are the questions the Youth Justice Project has been seeking to answer for the last few years.

The non-profit out of Durham has taken a magnifying glass to North Carolina and each one of its school districts, in a study commissioned on the racial disparity in discipline in the state's public schools.

Along with discipline data, the study also looked at the level of college readiness in students statewide.

A similar study has not been commissioned for South Carolina.

“We wanted to measure, not just how schools are educating children overall, but how different groups of children were faring,” says Peggy Nicholson, who works with the Youth Justice Program. 

The racial equity report card is the result of a massive amount of public data from across North Carolina. The study also breaks down, by individual school system, each district's numbers.  

Numbers may not be available for every school system in regards to the racial disparity issues due to low populations of minorities that may be in that individual district.

The results didn’t boast equality, with one figure showing that statewide, a black student in North Carolina is four times more likely to be suspended from school than a white student.

“Black students are not getting the opportunities and are being disciplined more harshly than their white peers,” Nicholson said, 

That did not surprise CMS parent Lelia Herron.

“I've seen African Americans get harsh charges for petty crimes, and this is the start of it,” Herron said. 

The numbers also didn't surprise ava carter, another CMS parent who has been leading a charge for change.

“Very few people want to address the racial dynamics that exist. We have to address it,” Ava Carter said. 

Within CMS, a black student is seven and a half times more likely to receive suspension than a white student, and also just as likely to be referred to juvenile court.

CMS knows about the numbers and they don't like it either.

“We know that equity is an issue, not only for Charlotte-Mecklenburg Schools, but nationally,” spokesperson Tracy Russ said. 

CMS has made no secret of their efforts to address racial disparities.

Studies that minority students are not more likely to misbehave or have problems learning, but the more we talked with CMS and other school districts, which are trying to address the disparities on their own, there is an institutional barrier they did come across--poverty, which disproportionately affects the African-Americans.

“A lot of districts like ours are looking at why does it exist, and what are we doing about it?” Newton-Conover Schools’ superintendent Dr. Aron Gabriel said. 

Gabriel says their numbers are below the state average on racial disparity, but he also says that's not good enough.

“If my child was reflected in one of these data points that was less than flattering, I would want someone to do something about it.” 

Newton-Conover says they're looking to hire staff that's more reflective of the makeup of the district, something people in Conover agree needs to happen even though the numbers of people going for education degrees are getting smaller and smaller.

“We know that students that have an opportunity to see teachers that look like them, for whatever reasons, they have a higher probability of graduating down the road,” says Dwayne Tutt with Thomas Chapel AME Zion Church in Conover. 

CMS says they've done that, and also started offering classes that cater to the diversity of the district and the diversity of interests every student has to keep every one of them in class and out of trouble.

“We think there's a lot of improvement in the curriculum so students can see themselves in their learning, in their experiences, K-12,” Russ said. 

For parents, it's a small step, but they also say there's still a long way to go.

“It makes me want to teach my own children. Homeschool them.  At least I would know what they're being taught or what they're experiencing,” Herron said. 

If there's one thing parents and educators agree on, it's using discipline as a last resort. Instead, the try to use a student’s bad behavior as a learning experience, giving every student every opportunity to succeed no matter who they are, what they look like, or how much money they have.

“The best way to service them is know your population of people,” Carter says. 

If you want to see the numbers for yourself, click here

FOX 46 also obtained statements from every district that has responded to our request to comment on this story, and those who didn't. To see the school’s responses, click here