Revised teacher training may help address Louisiana's racial disparities in public schools suspensions and its rate of young students being tossed out of school, the leader of a state panel studying the issue said Thursday morning.
"That is what we are going to be looking at," said Jennifer Coco, a New Orleans attorney and chairwoman of the Advisory Council on Student Behavior and Discipline.
The 24-member panel learned last year that the state's overall school suspension rate is top-heavy with black students.
In addition, nearly 8,000 students in pre-kindergarten through third grade were suspended during the 2015-16 school year.
A new state panel Friday was surprised to learn the depth of Louisiana's student discipline …
Both statistics help explain why teacher training for new educators, and professional development for veterans, tops the council's 2017 priority issues.
Coco said there is concern that explicit training in classroom management for aspiring teachers is less common today, making it harder for teachers to address behavior, not just academics.
"We have pretty high disproportionately in kids that get removed from school," she said.
About two thirds of students suspended during the 2015-16 school year – 41,103 – were black compared to 16,831 who were white, figures compiled by the state Department of Education show.
Why nearly 8,000 of Louisiana's youngest students were tossed out of school last year is tri…
Black students were suspended out of school at rates 2.5 times higher than white students, according to the council's 2016 report.
In addition, 12.4 percent of black students were suspended out of school at least once compared to 4.9 percent of white students, the study says.
The panel, which was created by a 2016 state law, plans to determine "whether new or improved training is needed around classroom management, cultural competency, implicit bias and conflict resolution to help educators address student behavior."
Options for tackling the issue range from workshops to modifications in how teachers are trained in college.
Among early learners, the state said willful disobedience, injurious conduct and fighting are among the reasons for suspensions.
The nearly 8,000 targets for discipline included 1,050 kindergarten students.
Coco said sentiment on the council is "what is so unmanageable about a child that young" and whether young students are being held to unreasonable expectations.
The issues are not unique to Louisiana.
Experts say young children are being sent home at alarming rates and that black students are more likely than whites to be removed from classrooms.
The council advises the state Board of Elementary and Secondary Education and the House and Senate education committees.
Coco said she expects the council to recommend legislation for the 2018 legislative session.
Previous bills to curb suspensions have sparked criticism that the authority of teachers would be undermined if they are unable to remove disruptive students.
Coco is a senior staff attorney for the Southern Poverty Law Center.
Others on the panel include parents, educators and a family court judge.
The council, which has met three times, is set to gather every other month in 2017.
The next session is scheduled for Feb. 10.