- Associated Press - Thursday, February 19, 2015

BLOOMINGTON, Minn. (AP) - Fewer students are being pulled from Minnesota classrooms for disciplinary reasons, but the gap between white and minority students is growing.

Students were suspended, expelled or otherwise removed from class about 50,000 times in the 2013-2014 school year, according to new data from the Minnesota Department of Education. That’s down about 5 percent from the year before.

But nonwhite students made up about 61 percent of those disciplinary actions last year, an increase of about 1 percentage point from the prior school year.

Education Commissioner Brenda Cassellius told reporters Thursday that the overall decrease is encouraging but there’s more work to be done to eliminate racial gaps.

The data come as officials and advocates have increased their focus on Minnesota’s gap in achievement between white students and students of color, which some say is among the worst in the nation. Cutting down on suspensions and expulsions for minority students would help solve that problem because it would give them more classroom time, said Marika Pfefferkorn, program director for the Minnesota Minority Education Partnership.

Suspensions decreased about 20 percent in the four-year period ending with the 2013-2014 school year, according to the education department. More than half of that drop came from school districts using a behavioral education program designed to better communicate expectations to students, even though only about a quarter of districts currently use it.

Cassellius supports a push from Gov. Mark Dayton to spend an additional $4.6 million over the next two years bringing that program to more districts across the state.

Amy Goetz, an attorney with the School Law Center, praised the system, known as Positive Behavioral Interventions and Supports. But she worries it isn’t helping minority students and students with disabilities as much as it could.

Nonwhite students comprised the majority of classroom removals despite making up less than 30 percent of overall enrollment. That could be the result of disconnects between a mostly white teacher workforce and the nonwhite students they teach, Pfefferkorn said.

Fights, threats and disruptive behavior were some of the most common reasons Minnesota students were disciplined in the 2013-2014 school year.

Nonwhite students accounted for 30,827 of about 50,000 disciplinary actions that year. Those numbers include less severe punishments like in-school suspensions.

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