Suspensions in Salem-Keizer schools double in days following public report

McNary High School

Suspensions at Salem-Keizer Public Schools have doubled in the 10 school days following the district’s public release of discipline data at a Nov. 16 school board meeting. 

At a Nov. 16 Salem-Keizer school board work session, district leadership presented data that showed that suspensions had decreased substantially in schools in the first two months of the 2021-2022 school year. Compared to the same timeframe in 2019, suspensions were down 55% for an average of 25 suspensions a day. 

Public records obtained by the Keizertimes show that in 10 school days following the data range released by the district, there were a total of 503 suspensions — an average of 50 per day. 

Discipline data has become a point of contention at school board meetings this year after school resource officers were removed from schools in March of this year.

Board directors Marty Heyen, Satya Chandragiri and Danielle Bethell have all called for the district to show discipline data to the public on a more regular basis. School board directors have access to daily updates on discipline data through an online dashboard. 

The district is only scheduled to release discipline data to the public twice this year — once at the Nov. 16 meeting and once again in February of 2022. 

In addition to suspensions, district leadership presented discipline data at the Nov. 16 work session that included total expulsions, fighting violations and insubordinate violations in the district from Sept. 1 to Nov. 5. There were a total of 40 school days during that time frame. 

Compared to the same timeframe in 2019, fighting violations increased by 42%, but expulsions had decreased by 90% and suspensions by 55%.

“There is a narrative that says well we aren’t holding our students accountable. You can see by those numbers that there’s thousands of instances where we’ve held students accountable so that’s not necessarily the issue,” Assistant Superintendent Iton Udosenata said at the Nov. 16 meeting. “But what we do want to do is make sure that we are building relationships with students and using restorative practices to hold students accountable.”

But from Nov. 5 to Nov. 22, a total of 10 school days, there were 313 in-school suspensions and 190 out-of-school suspensions, totaling 503 suspensions. The per day average of fights, physical assaults and expulsions increased only slightly.

Udosenata said on a call Tuesday, Nov. 30 that the spike in suspensions wasn’t due to any lag in data entry.

“A pattern that I’ve seen in my time as a building leader is that, especially around the holidays, we’ll see a spike in or increase in problem behaviors in school. And this is for a variety of reasons,” Udosenata said. “We see it in November right before Thanksgiving. And we also often see it right before the winter break.”

Data provided by Salem-Keizer district spokesperson Aaron Harada shows that suspensions were high during the same period in 2019. From Nov. 5 to Nov. 22 in 2019, there were 775 violations — 462 more than in 2021. There were three more school days during this period in 2019 however. 

Udosenata and other district officials said during the call that a few major incidents at schools last week most likely contributed to the spike. Gweneth Bruey-Finck, the district’s director of secondary curriculum and instruction, added that another cause was “we also got to a period in time where a lot of that progressive series of disciplines reached the suspension level.” 

“It’s really concerning when students are excluded from the educational environment, that’s never the outcome that we want,” Bruey-Finck said. “However, I think it’s also important to know that behind that one data point is a huge amount of hours of support and counsel and mentorship and conversations and redirection and tier one interventions.”

At the Nov. 16 school board meeting, Heyen and Chandragiri both questioned district and board leadership about why the district wasn’t more regularly releasing data discipline for the public to see.

Board Chair Osvaldo Avila said that district and board leadership made the decision not to show the data each month because “the district is under a lot of stress, a lot of work, a lot of pressure.”

In an email on Dec. 1, Avila provided further context for the decision to share data twice this school year. 

“We made the decision to not have the data shared monthly because we are focused on the District’s Key Performance Indicators to measure success and though discipline data is very important, we want to focus on other disparities such as the lack of college preparation opportunities among students of color,” wrote Avila. “The discipline data informs us that students continue to struggle integrating back among each other with stresses that disrupt their learning. We’ll continue to review the discipline data in meetings where we can do deeper dives to understand with greater context.”

Udosenata said the district will continue to update parents on individual incidents or behavioral patterns in schools, which “mitigates the need to have frequent updates like this on a monthly basis in public board meetings.”

“It’s of paramount importance to us that we’re keeping our kids in class and not suspending kids. But we do also have a system of accountability that includes suspensions,” said Udosenata. 

News tip? Contact reporter Joey Cappelletti at [email protected] or 616-610-3093.