An ACLU report released last week shows the York City School District leads the 500 state school districts in out-of-school suspensions.
In the 2011-12 school year, the most recent year of available data, York City assessed 91.4 suspensions for every 100 students, according to the report. The second-highest rate was 78.3 suspensions for every 100 students, in the Sto-Rox School District in Allegheny County.
Harold Jordan, an ACLU community organizer and project director for the report, said it was a three-year process to compile the data in the "Beyond Zero Tolerance" document. It aims to shed light on the disciplinary measures across the state and make observations about the presence of police officers in schools, he said.
"The point of this report is not to finger-point at certain school districts," Jordan added.
Jordan said the report showed a disproportionate number of African-American and Latino students were disciplined with suspensions in districts all over the state, not just those in districts such as York or Philadelphia.
The report used information from each of the school districts, the state police, and the state and federal departments of education, Jordan said.
The statistics in the ACLU report reflect the number of out-of-school suspensions, not the number of different students who received out-of-school suspensions, Jordan said.
Response: A release from the York City School District said the ACLU report is "misleading" and "exaggerates data in order to support their philosophy about the use of out-of-school suspensions as a disciplinary measure."
The release said the rate of out-of-school suspensions for the 2011-12 school year was 27 percent: There were 1,482 students suspended out of 5,463 students enrolled. The district said that number declined to 24 percent in the 2012-13 school year and continues to decline.
The release also said the district is investigating a new method for suspensions. Students who would typically receive out-of-school suspensions could instead serve that time at the William C. Goodridge Academy at the Lindbergh Education Center and be transported to the academy from their home school.
The board could vote on that process in January and, if approved, could begin in February or March, according to the release.
Role of police: Jordan said another major component of the report was looking at the role of police in schools.
He said schools should have a very clear policy about when law enforcement officers stationed in schools should be involved in incidents. Otherwise, he said, officers tend to get increasingly involved in incidents that are not of a criminal nature.
As part of its recovery plan, the York City School District is using a positive behavior reinforcement program to encourage good behavior in the schools, while also talking about increasing the authority of the district's five resource officers.
"I think there is a contradiction in approaches when you're trying to expand the police presence in the schools at the same time you're talking about alternative programs," Jordan said.
Jordan said blurring the roles of police officers in schools can do more harm than good.
"Police are not guidance counselors," he said.
Jordan said there is a role for police in schools, but that should be spelled out clearly so it only involves incidents of a criminal or violent nature.
"We really want there to be a critical and more informed debate about that," Jordan said.