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New Report Examines Needs Of Black Students In South King County Public Schools

Kyle Stokes
Rainier Beach High School seniors wave to the crowd watching their graduation ceremony in the stands of Memorial Stadium at Seattle Center in June 10, 2015. About half of the students at the Southeast Seattle school are black or African-American.

A new report on the needs of black and African-American students in south Seattle and six south King County school districts says they continue to face inequities and racism. One area of focus is disproportionate use of discipline.

State lawmakers have taken action in recent years to try to reduce the use of suspension and expulsions as discipline in school, especially for students of color.

The use of exclusionary discipline has been declining in south Seattle and south King County districts, according to the report from the Road Map Project. The project is supported by philanthropic groups such as the Bezos Family Foundation and the Bill and Melinda Gates Foundation.

Report author Shelby Cooley said kids continue to face different consequences for breaking school rules.

"Race still plays a large role in discipline. We still see a large disparity between specifically black and white students when it comes to exclusionary discipline," Cooley said.

The report found that black students receive more severe punishment than their white peers for the same infraction.

In interviews, black high school students from the region identified things that could improve school. 

“What students want and what they feel they’re not receiving are four things – it’s teachers who look like them, it’s an environment that emphasizes learning and not test scores, our black students said they want preparation for life beyond high school and they also called out for lessons about their own histories," Cooley said.

She said about three and a half percent of teachers in Seattle and the South King County school districts that she examined are black. In the region that she studied, fifteen percent of the students are of African descent. They come from a wide range of backgrounds: 84 percent were born in the U.S., and the rest hail from countries including Somalia, Ethiopia and Kenya.

The area she looked at includes the school districts of Federal Way, Auburn, Renton, Tukwila, Kent, and Highline as well as schools in South Seattle.

Her report also looks at college enrollment statistics and completion rates for black students from the region. She found that black and African-American students enroll in college at an above-average rate, but far fewer of them stayed in college and graduated.

In July 2017, Ashley Gross became KNKX's youth and education reporter after years of covering the business and labor beat. She joined the station in May 2012 and previously worked five years at WBEZ in Chicago, where she reported on business and the economy. Her work telling the human side of the mortgage crisis garnered awards from the Illinois Associated Press and the Chicago Headline Club. She's also reported for the Alaska Public Radio Network in Anchorage and for Bloomberg News in San Francisco.