Frequently Asked Questions
The Minnesota Department of Human Rights (MDHR or the Department) analyzed statewide public data available in the Discipline Incidents Reporting System (DIRS) and found that districts and charter schools are suspending and expelling students designated as special education, Native American, and students of color, especially African-American students, more than their peers. MDHR also found that the majority of reasoning behind the assignment of suspensions and expulsions were subjective and thus showed bias.
In the Fall of 2017, MDHR began meeting with leaders from 43 public school districts and charter schools about suspension and expulsion disparities for students in their districts and at their schools. As a result of those conversations, most districts and schools chose to work with MDHR to create collaborative agreements to address the disproportionality, keep kids in class when issues of safety, weapons or illegal drugs were not involved and to help students find greater success. The two districts that were not interested in working with the Department have been issued administrative charges for violating the Minnesota Human Rights Act (MHRA).
Q: Do disparities in suspensions and expulsions of students in Minnesota schools exist?
A: According to student discipline data reported to the Minnesota Department of Education by schools and districts throughout the state during the 2015-16 school year, significant disparities in suspensions and expulsions exist for American Indian students, African–American students, students of color, and students with disabilities.
Throughout public schools and charters in Minnesota, the Disciplinary Incident Reporting System (DIRS) data for the 2015-16 school year showed:
- American-Indian students were ten times more likely to be suspended or expelled than white peers.
- African–American students were eight times more likely to be suspended or expelled than white peers.
- Students of color were two times more likely to be suspended or expelled than white peers.
- Students with disabilities were two times more likely to be suspended or expelled than their peers without a disability.
A closer look at the 2015-2016 school year, shows statewide:
- Students of color represent 31 percent of the student population but received 66 percent of all suspensions & expulsions.
- African-American students represent 10 percent of the student population but received 41 percent of all suspensions & expulsions.
- Special Education students represent 14 percent of the student population but received 43 percent of all suspensions and expulsions.
- Of all suspensions and expulsions, 55 percent were subjective:
- Of the 29 DIRS categories, seven were identified as subjective. The seven categories are – other, verbal abuse, bullying, cyber–bullying, threat/intimidation, harassment and disruptive/disorderly conduct/insubordination.
- Of all the suspensions and expulsions 37 percent were classified as Disrespect/Disorderly Conduct/Insubordination.
Q: Why have suspensions and expulsions become an issue?
A: Under the Minnesota Human Rights Act, these disparate outcomes have the potential to deny educational access and negatively impact student achievement for American Indian students, African–American students, students of color, and students with disabilities.
Q: Does MDHR have jurisdiction over school districts and charter schools?
A: Yes, the Minnesota Human Rights Act (MHRA) prohibits discrimination in the area of education. See, Minn. Stat. §363A.13. MDHR routinely has several pending administrative investigations concerning educational institutions within Minnesota.
Q: Why does the Department believe that examining suspension and expulsion practices is important?
A: All students are entitled to the opportunity to receive a quality education in Minnesota. If students are absent from the classroom they are less likely to graduate and less likely to find academic success. Moreover, all students in a school are negatively impacted by high rates of suspensions and expulsions—even if they have never been suspended themselves.
Q: How does Minnesota’s suspension and expulsion data compare Nationwide?
A: The suspension and expulsion disparity rate for Native American students in Minnesota is approximately two times higher than the national rate for Native American students. The suspension and expulsion disparity rate for African-American students in Minnesota is nearly three times higher than the national rate for African-American students. This data suggests that implicit bias is impacting our kids in school.
Q: Is there a connection between suspensions and expulsions and the achievement gap?
A: School suspensions account for 20 percent of the difference in achievement between African-American and Caucasian students. Students at schools with high rates of suspensions exhibit lower achievement — even if never suspended. Reducing suspension and expulsion disparities will help ensure that all students of color, American Indian students, and students with disabilities are given the same opportunities for success as their Caucasian peers. All Minnesota students need and deserve access to a education for success in life.
Academic research shows:
- There is a strong correlation between disparate racial differences in suspensions and academic achievement of students of color.
- School suspensions account for 20 percent of the difference in achievement between African-American and Caucasian students.
- Students at schools with high rates of suspensions exhibit lower academic achievement even if the students have never been suspended.
Q: Are Minnesota graduation rates increasing for all students?
A: As a state, we have definitely increased the graduation rates of all students. However, we only need to look as far as our graduation rates where 87% of Caucasian students graduate high school but only 65% or less children of color graduate to know that we continue to have a statewide problem. Additionally, 11% of Minnesotans identify as a person with a disability yet only 61% graduate in four years. These are numbers we must turn around for the sake of all our students.
In order to make a Minnesota that works for all, we must ensure that every student in our schools is well positioned for long-term success. This effort is one of multiple initiatives being undertaken to increase academic achievement and graduation rates for all students.
Q: Why is it important to ensure that every student has the chance to benefit fully from an education?
A: Building an inclusive and prepared workforce is essential for our economy to thrive as the number of working age adults becomes smaller and more racially and ethnically diverse. Nearly half of the state’s workforce will identify as a person of color by 2040. Students in 9th grade will graduate in 2021, the graduating class of 2014 is in sixth grade. Today’s kindergartners will be the class of 2030.
- Minnesota’s workforce is shrinking and becoming more diverse.
- Minnesota’s Demographer is projecting that one in five Minnesotans will be over the age of 65 by 2030.
- The percentage of working age adults comprising Minnesota’s total population will decrease from 63% to 57% by 2030.
- 39% of all Minnesota K–12 students in public schools right now are students of color.
- In greater Minnesota, 19% of Minnesota K–12 students are students of color.
- In the seven–county metro area, 49% of the students in public schools are students of color.
In order to have a strong viable workforce in Minnesota, we must ensure that all students have the opportunity to benefit fully from an education. A significant first step is to do all we can to keep kids in school where they can learn.
Q: How did the Department decide which charter schools and school districts to meet with last year?
A: The Department reviewed DIRS data for every public school district and charter school in the State of Minnesota. MDHR considered the following data points over a five-year period:
- How does the rate for use of suspension per 100 students higher in the district or charter school compare to the statewide average suspension rate per 100 students?
- Are students of color disproportionately represented in the pool of students suspended given the enrollment of students of color in the school? (For example, African-American students constitute 24% of the students enrolled within the school district or charter school but were given 60% of all the suspensions in that district or school.)
- Are Native American students disproportionately represented in the pool of students suspended given the enrollment of Native American students? (For example, Native American students constitute 5% of the students enrolled within the school district or charter school but were given 35% of all the suspensions in that district or school.)
- Are students with disabilities disproportionately represented in the pool of students suspended given the enrollment of students with disabilities in that district or school? (For example, students with disabilities constitute 15% of the students enrolled within the school district or charter school but were given 37% of all the suspensions in that district or school.)
- Is a significant percentage of the reasons identified by the district or school for suspending students in categories that do not involve physical harm, weapons or illegal drugs? (For example, a school district or charter school may have identified the reason for suspension in a category other than physical harm, weapons, or illegal drugs more than 60% of the time.)
- Are there a significant number of suspension decision identified by the school as “other” or “attendance?”
Districts and charter schools with whom MDHR met had a multitude of the above data points present consistently over several of the years.
Q: Does DIRS data capture all suspensions issued by school districts and charter schools?
A: No. School districts and charter schools are not required to report to DIRS suspensions for general education students that are less than one school day and suspension for special education students that are less than half of a school day.
Q: What reasons were reported by schools for student suspensions?
A: For the five–year period we examined, DIRS data showed that the majority of suspension decisions made by school districts and charter schools were for subjective reasons that did not involve physical harm to others, weapons, or illegal drugs. For example, 37% of all suspensions and expulsion decisions reported by school districts and charter schools within DIRS were for “insubordination, disruptive and disorderly conduct.”
Some examples of disrespectful behaviors could include swearing, rolling of the eyes, making inappropriate remarks or sounds in response to a request, walking away from a staff member before a conversation is over or talking back to a staff member.
Q: How many Minnesota students will be impacted by the effort undertaken by the Department?
A: The number of students impacted by this effort will be substantial. The 43 school districts and charter schools enroll approximately 68% of African-American students, approximately 55% of Native American students and 40% of all students in the state. They also issued approximately 62% of all suspensions in Minnesota.
Q: Is MDHR seeking to implement a suspension quota or a moratorium of suspensions and expulsions?
A: No. The Department is not seeking to implement a quota system for suspensions nor has it told any district or charter school that they should stop suspending or expelling students. Rather, the Department is looking for school districts and charter schools to work with their own students, parents, and school personnel to examine whether implicit bias is impacting suspension decisions and whether alternative approaches could be undertaken to keep kids in school when safety, weapons, or illegal drugs are not an issue.
Q: What does the Department mean by implicit bias?
A: Implicit bias refers to the attitudes or stereotypes that affect our understanding, actions, and decisions in an unconscious manner. These biases, which encompass both favorable and unfavorable assessments, are activated involuntarily and without an individual’s awareness or intentional control. Implicit associations within our subconscious cause us to have feelings and attitudes about other people based on characteristics such as race, ethnicity, age, and appearance. These associations are formed through direct and indirect messages that we receive from our interactions with others and through the media.
Q: How can I obtain copies of final Agreements between MDHR and the districts and charter schools?
A: All Agreements between the school districts and charter schools that have been signed with the Department can be obtained from the Department’s website. All of the Agreements contain a provision for the school districts and charter schools to seek input from and work with students, parents and faculty in implementing their plan to reduce suspension disparities. The Department encourages you to have a conversation with school officials on how your school community can work together to improve outcomes for all students.
Q: Are the Agreements intended to allow for new ideas and strategies to be brought forward by students, parents and school personnel?
A: Consistent with concept of working toward continually improving the school learning environment for all students, the Agreements provide for school officials to work with students, parents and school officials to listen to one another and work collaboratively on improving the school learning environment. If you are interested in working toward improving your local school learning environment, the Department would encourage you to contact your local school officials to find out more about how you can become involved in your local school.
Q: I do not see all 43 agreements listed on MDHR’s website.
A: 41 of the 43 districts and charter schools choose to work with MDHR to address the disproportionality.
Because school discipline in most instances is about teaching students what is expected of them, ensuring a healthy learning environment exists, and properly supporting teachers, most school leaders saw our effort as an opportunity to create alternatives to suspensions, create greater consistency in their policies, and ensure safe environments for all. They also saw this as an opportunity to explore the role implicit bias plays in behavior referrals and suspension and expulsion decisions and they want to work to change their practices so all children have the same opportunities in school regardless of disability status or ethnicity.
The 2 districts that did not want to work with MDHR have been issued administrative charges for violating the MHRA. To date, MDHR has finalized XX agreements. MHDR is continuing negotiations with the remaining school districts and charter schools. When agreements are finalized, the Department will make those agreements available to the public.
Q: Will School Districts and Charter Schools retain the ability to discipline students?
A: Yes. The Department is not dictating to school districts or charter schools what type of corrective action strategies and positive behavioral interventions they must adopt. The Department is also not calling for a moratorium on suspensions. Consistent with local control, school districts and charter schools retain the right to choose the methodology they deem best suited for their educational environment to change the disproportionality in their own system. Ultimately, increasing the use of positive behavioral interventions will increase student engagement and academic outcomes and keep students in class where they can learn.