Black Students in CMS Suspended Much More Often Than White Students, According To New Data.

henry long
3 min readJun 30, 2021

Black students in Charlotte-Mecklenburg schools are disproportionately more likely to be suspended than white students, and the lack of a reflective student to teacher population is to blame, according to experts from the Southern Coalition for Social Justice.

This week, the SCSJ released their annual “racial equity report cards,” and their findings revealed that Black students in CMS are seven times more likely to receive short term suspensions than white students.

That disparity is again reflected in the total percentage of suspensions served, where Black students in CMS serve 74.3% of all short term suspensions.

High percentages like these are not uncommon for North Carolina, but Charlotte’s numbers are well above the state averages. Statewide Black students are four times more likely to be suspended than white students, and Black students serve 54.9% of all short term suspensions.

Not only are Black students more likely to be suspended, they are also more likely to be referred to the state courts system following a suspension. Almost 82% of students referred to the police after a suspension were Black, despite Black students accounting for just 34% of the total CMS population. According to Tyler Whittenberg of the SCSJ, this trend contributes to the “school-to-prison pipeline.”

“The school-to-prison pipeline is essentially the over policing of Black students in schools, perpetuated by our country’s larger problems surrounding racial justice. It exists, like so many things before it, as a way to keep Black students from receiving the same opportunities now and later in life than their fellow white students,” said Whittenberg.

According to the SCSJ, the driving force behind many of the troubling developments in these report cards comes from an imbalance of Black teachers to Black students. While students of color make up nearly 75% of CMS students, only 38% of teachers in the district are people of color as well.

Other factors contribute to these disparities as well like the COVID-19 pandemic and the ongoing conversations about racial equity on a national scale. Households with Black students are 40% more likely to be without internet, according to the North Carolina Department of Public Instruction. Those same households are also more likely to have working parents who are unable to monitor their child’s schooling from home. Meanwhile, the stress of navigating a nationwide reckoning on decades of racial injustice only adds to the already overwhelming pressures of online school.

“It’s a fact, and it’s a sad fact, that Black students typically don’t do as well with at home learning because of their situations,” said Amber Dowdy, a guidance counselor at Myers Park High School.

This is not the first time in recent history that CMS has come under scrutiny for perpetuating a racially disparate school system. Last month, the N.C. Justice Center’s Education & Law Project found that CMS is “by far the most racially segregated district in the state.”

The segregation in CMS funnels students directly into the school-to-prison pipeline according to Whittenberg.

“Typically, in districts that are incredibly segregated … you’re gonna see more law enforcement in schools with students of color and with low-income backgrounds,” Whittenberg said. “The more you police Black and brown students, the more referrals you’re going to have.”

“CMS has a real problem here,” said Whittenberg.

Wittenberg and the SCSJ recommend a restructuring of the district’s current policies to curb the effects of over-policing. These recommendations include a nationwide reduction of law enforcement officers in schools and a hiring quota for teachers of color.

Some steps have been taken already, like Governor Roy Cooper’s task force on racial equity, but according to the SCSJ it is just one step in a long process.