Schools in Minneapolis now need permission to suspend minority students

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It will be harder for schools in Minneapolis to suspend black, American Indian and Hispanic students under plans aimed at 'reducing disproportionality' in the system.

As of Monday, Superintendent Bernadeia Johnson and her leadership team will review every suspension of a student of color in the Minneapolis school district, the Star Tribune reports.

The move comes after Minneapolis' suspension policies have been under increased scrutiny from civil rights officials inside the U.S Department of Education and also follows a moratorium on suspensions of pre-kindergartners, kindergarteners and first graders that Johnson says has reduced suspensions by 50 percent.

She predicts reviews of suspended students of color could reduce them by a further 50 percent by 2016, telling the Tribune: "It's about reducing disproportionality of student suspensions.

"Changing the trajectory for our students of color is a moral and ethical imperative, and our actions must be drastically different to achieve our goal of closing the achievement gap by 2020."

Plan to boost achievement

The new policy on suspensions is part of a wider plan by the Minneapolis school board to improve achievement among minority students and close the gap with traditionally higher-achieving white students, MPR reports.

The plan, named Acceleration 2020, aims to improve math and reading proficiency rates by 50 percent by 2020 and eliminate the gap between white and minority students.

While the move to reduce suspensions has been welcomed, FOX9 reports that there is skepticism among city students over whether it will succeed in boosting achievement.

Noah Branch, a sophomore at Patrick Henry High School, told FOX9: "It's not necessarily going to make any progress bridging the gap at all."

Disparities in the system

For the past two years, Minneapolis schools have been subject to an investigation by the Office of Civil Rights over the high number of suspensions of African American students, in an attempt to determine whether minority students are punished more harshly than white students, MPR notes.

This fall, 76 percent of suspended students in the city were African American, despite them comprising just a third of total student numbers.

Another study of inequality in Minneapolis schools found that schools with students from low-income families have the highest concentration of poor-performing teachers, the Star Tribune reports.

Responding to the results of the study, revealed on Monday, Johnson told the newspaper the city would be looking into ways of changing its staffing and retention policies to reduce the disparity between affluent and poor areas.

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