At KIPP DC AIM Academy PCS special education students were suspended at a rate of 48.2 percent.

While the KIPP DC charter school receives praise for raising achievement scores for Black students, the network’s higher-than-average suspension rates is a cause of for concern, a D.C. charter school board leader said. “This isn’t just a KIPP issue but across the country a number of highly successful charter operators, if you look at the discipline data, they are higher than the average on what one might expect them to be,” D.C. Public Charter School BoardChairman Darren Woodruff said at a Nov. 16 board meeting where the school was under consideration for renewal of a 15-year charter, which enables charter schools to operate in the district. “What we’re grappling with, and even here in D.C., we’ve seen a downward trend of the percent of students that are given out of school suspension or expulsion,” he said.

Woodruff’s remarks echo concerns that Democratic presidential candidate and former Secretary of State Hillary Clinton raised with journalist Roland Martin earlier this month, stating that most charter schools “don’t take the hardest-to-teach kids, or, if they do, they don’t keep them.”

According to new data from the Office of the State Superintendent of Education, only about 10 percent of all district students received an out-of-school suspension for one day or more during the 2014-2015 school year – a decrease from 11 percent in the prior year. Yet, the data shows, at several KIPP schools, the suspension rates are higher than the D.C. Public Schools (DCPS) average.

At KIPP DC AIM Academy – a middle school in Ward 8 – special education students were suspended at a rate of 48.2 percent, significantly higher than the 28.2 percent average for DCPS. Woodruff expressed concern that suspended students would end up in what has come to be known as the “school-to-prison” pipeline. “We are not in business to do that,” Allison Fansler, president and chief operating officer at KIPP DC, said.

When Woodruff asked KIPP DC leaders how they might maintain high achievement and, at the same time, decrease suspension rates, Fansler said school leaders had done some “soul-searching.”

KIPP DC also launched a new learning center for “very challenged students who have learning disabilities and challenges,” Fansler said, noting that KIPP DC has gotten significantly more such students in recent years. The Learning Center – meant to give students a chance to “get back on track” – is located at the same campus as KIPP DC AIM Academy and serves 70 students in grades pre-K4 through 8th grade from any of KIPP DC’s 15 early childhood, elementary or middle schools.

The school board voted unanimously to renew KIPP DC’s 15-year charter because the charter school network met all of the academic standards except for school discipline. Woodruff said KIPP DC “has an opportunity to be a leader” in school discipline.