Wake Co. minority students disproportionately affected by suspensions, group says

CARY, N.C. (WNCN) – Students and activists with the Education Justice Alliance rallied Tuesday before the Wake County Board of Education meeting, calling on district leaders to do more about the rate of students being suspended.

While the group commended the district for bringing the overall rate of suspensions down, they’re concerned minority students are still being disproportionately affected.

“We’ve brought the suspension rate in Wake County down 30 percent, but still 70 percent of those students are black and Latino students,” said Tavon Bridges, who graduated from Knightdale High School in 2014.

Alejandra Mendez, a sophomore at Wakefield High School, said she’s concerned about the police presence at her school.

“There are so many cops at school and not enough counselors to reach out for help,” said Mendez. “Do you actually want to educate us, or do you want to put us in prison?”

The group took its concerns to the school board during its regular meeting Tuesday. The rally was part of the Dignity in Schools Campaign. Activists are concerned Wake County is part of a “school-to-prison pipeline” where young people are suspended from school too frequently and eventually are incarcerated.

Dr. Rodney Trice, assistant superintendent for equity affairs, said the district has taken steps to address the students’ concerns including sharing more data directly with individual schools and implementing new training, which is taking place this school year.

“I don’t think the issue is unique to Wake County. Certainly, we want to take a progressive approach to addressing this issue that is preventive in nature instead of dealing with it on the back end,” said Trice.

During Tuesday’s meeting, board member Dr. Jim Martin said he believes schools need more counselors. He’s been a critic of the label “school-to-prison pipeline,” saying the problem is more of a “poverty-to-prison pipeline.”

But, adding more counselors is just one step the students would like to see the district take in their overall approach.

Mendez said, “There’s not a lot of improvement in schools. I still see kids being arrested.”

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