The number of suspensions handed out has risen in Portland’s middle and high schools since 2018 and Black students have felt the greatest impact of that increased discipline.

Although the Portland school district’s student population has been declining for around a decade, 150 more students were suspended during the 2021-22 school year compared with the 2017-18 school year. And as the number of suspensions in the district increased, Black students were suspended at a higher rate than white students in relation to their respective enrollments, according to data the district presented at its board meeting Tuesday night.

During the 2017-18 school year, Black students made up 27 percent of the population and accounted for 29 percent of suspensions. In the 2021-22 school year, Black students accounted for 30 percent of the district population and 38 percent of suspensions.

During the 2017-18 school year, 56 percent of the district’s students were white and they accounted for 55 percent of suspensions. In the 2021-22 school year, white students made up 51 percent of the district’s student population and accounted for 42 percent of suspensions.

Research has clearly and consistently shown that suspending students does more harm than good. A 2021 study conducted by the American Institutes of Research, a behavioral and social science research nonprofit, shows that suspensions are largely ineffective – that they fail to reduce future misbehavior, they harm academic achievement and that the students who remain in school do not benefit from their peers’ absence.

However, disciplinary suspensions remain prevalent across the country. A report released in 2020 by the UCLA Civil Rights Project found that during the 2015-16 school year students lost a total of 11 million days of instruction via out-of-school suspensions and that students of color, and especially Black boys, were disciplined at higher rates than other groups.


In the Portland school district, Black students were not the only group subject to disproportionate suspensions last school year.

English language learners accounted for only 33 percent of the student body but 50 percent of suspensions in 2021-22. And students with individualized education plans, which are given to students with disabilities or who otherwise require special accommodations, made up 17 percent of the student body last school year but accounted for 55 percent of suspensions.

Students can be suspended for a variety of reasons, including bullying, insubordination and disrespect, skipping class, violence, possession of weapons and alcohol, and illegal drug-related events.

The most common reason students of all groups were suspended in the 2021-22 school year was insubordination and disrespect. Students were also frequently suspended for violence without physical injury and bullying. High school students were also often suspended for drug- and alcohol-related incidences.

Considering this data, the district said it would work to prioritize strengthening relationships, increase social-emotional learning instruction, look for alternatives to punitive discipline, and continue to monitor and share discipline data.

Board Chair Emily Figdor said she found it “deeply disappointing,” that suspensions are at their highest level in five years. “We need kids in class to learn,” she said, referencing board member Abusana “Micky” Bondo, who shared a similar sentiment earlier in the meeting.

The board adjusted the district’s suspension policy during the 2020-21 school year with the goal of reducing suspensions. Figdor said she would like the board to revisit its policy and preclude suspension as discipline for certain actions, including violence without injury and insubordination, which she said seemed like a power struggle between students and staff and therefore an inappropriate reason to suspend a student.

The district should move quickly to drive a marked decrease in student suspensions, she said.

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