FILE - Milwaukee, Wisconsin

Milwaukee, Wisconsin

(The Center Square) –The agreement to suspend fewer Black students in Milwaukee Public Schools has led to more students feeling less safe in their schools.

The Wisconsin Institute for Law and Liberty released a report on Wednesday that looks at the impact of the 2018 agreement between MPS and the Department of Education.

WILL found:

  • Suspension rates declined in Milwaukee after the MPS agreement. 
  • Reduced suspension for African American students resulted in lower reports of safety.
  • Suspension rates for other student groups change in a more “normal” manner.
  • Black students suffer the most because of the changes.

WILL Research Director Will Flanders and Policy Intern Amelia Wedward authored the report.

They two say when school suspensions fell in Milwaukee Public Schools after the district agreed to change its policies to align with former Pres. Obama-era thinking on race and school discipline, the number of students who said they felt less safe in school increased.

“When suspension rates for African American students fell, the share of students reporting that they feel unsafe in their school’s hallways went up,” the report notes. “[Because] African American students are heavily concentrated in schools with other African Americans, other African American students bear the brunt of lax discipline practices.”

Approximately 80% of MPS's student body is Black.

The research says the connection between suspensions and safety for Hispanic or other races of students is different.

“It is important to note that this is not a story about African American students disrupting learning for students of other races. In many cases, other African American students are the ones most harmed by disruptive classroom environments,” the researchers note.

Instead, WILL says the data suggests schools need to focus on school safety in addition to their other goals with changing school discipline.

“Rather than helping to create a safer environment for students, students appear to feel less safe in schools where suspension rates for African American students are declining,” the report states.

“If differences in suspension rates along racial lines are not the result of overt racism, as the data here suggests they are not, the natural result of reduced suspensions is fostering an environment where other students will have more difficulty learning; and, perhaps even be afraid to come to school. After a year of learning loss, we cannot afford to lose another year to misguided discipline policies under the false narrative of disparate impacts.”