Students of color are more likely to be suspended from Wyoming's public schools than their white counterparts. That's according to a report released by the Wyoming Community Foundation.
The report, "KIDS COUNT, Exclusionary Discipline, Racial Disparities in the Equality State" draws on data gathered by the U.S. Department of Education. It found that in the 2015-2016 school year, Native American students were overrepresented by more than 5 percent when it came to in and out-of-school suspensions. Hispanic students were overrepresented by close to 4 percent.
"We know that discipline and order are important to creating a classroom where all students learn," Chief Operating Officer of the Wyoming Community Foundation Samin Dadelahi said. "There are times when exclusionary discipline is necessary, but evidence shows that finding alternatives to suspension increases the chance for student success."
The report attributes much of the disparity to implicit bias held by school staff and the use of "subjective discipline" - when educators use their own judgment, rather than documented school rules, to determine whether a child's behavior warrants school suspension.
John Griffith, Principal of Riverton High School said the results of the survey need to be addressed.
"We try to treat every student the same regardless of their race, ethnicity, gender, sexual orientation - that's really important to us as a school," Griffith said. "So to see data like that represented at the state level is naturally disappointing."
Riverton High School served an 18 percent Native American student body in the 2015-2016 school year. Those students were 2.6 times more likely to be suspended from school than white students.
Since then, Griffith said Riverton High School has reduced that number by not suspending students for absenteeism.
"We've really turned away from that and tried to keep the student in school, try to fix some things that are going on at home or in his community life that's preventing him from coming to school," Griffith said.
The report cites research showing that exclusionary discipline - punishments that remove students from the classroom - can cause a child to further disengage from school, teachers and peers. It recommends that Wyoming schools use Positive Behavioral Interventions and Supports (PBIS) to address student behavior and train educators to combat implicit bias.