Yes, it has been an issue always and now it must change.
From the Richmond Times twitter:
"Black students made up 15 percent of national enrollment in 2015-16, but they accounted for 31 percent of those referred to law enforcement or arrested. Every Richmond-area school division was at or worse than the national average."
@JasonKamras (superintendent of Richmond city schools):
"And in Richmond, 72% of students are African-American, yet they were given 88% of the suspensions. Unacceptable. We can, we must, and we will end this injustice."
from VA Senator Jennifer McClellan, about a bill she pushed to increase transparency:
"HB 367 required the Board of Education to annually publish disciplinary offense and outcome data by race, ethnicity, gender, and disability. With the passage of that bill, we have been able to systematically track patterns in the use of suspension/expulsion in our public schools."
"In 2016, @LegalAidJustice released an analysis of public school exclusionary discipline data for the 2014-2015 academic year. Results were stark, demonstrating that students of color & students w/ disabilities were disproportionately suspended/expelled."
And it has not improved so:
"Gov. Ralph Northam on Friday signed two bills regarding student discipline and suspensions, one barring school divisions from suspending students in pre-K through third grade for more than three days, and another that cuts the maximum length of a long-term suspension from 364 calendar days to 45 school days."
"The architect of the bills, Amy Woolard, a staff attorney and policy coordinator at Charlottesville’s Legal Aid Justice Center, agrees.
“Exclusionary discipline is myopic and harmful — we cannot continue to use access to education as a punishment for student conduct and expect positive results from either students or schools,” she said upon the release of a report she authored in October. “When children are suspended from school, they are more likely to experience academic failure, drop out of school, have substance abuse issues, have mental health needs and become involved in the justice system.”"
Jim, If you follow local and national education influencers on twitter you will see that there is a huge push to engage all kids, to move away from simple compliance based attitudes that are fostered by punishment based systems, and to make the school environment equitable and accessable for every student.
The idea is apparent in Fauquier school's strategic plan "beliefs":
2.1 -- REVISIONS ACCEPTED.pdf
I would encourage you to read some of Alfie Kohn's writing on kids and schools, especially this:
It is long, put make sure to read at the 1/3 point down.
We know so much about what creates healthy learning environments and what shuts kids down. Students have been expected to be compliant vessels for far too long. The major changes in access to information and the potential uses of technology are forcing schools to make big adjustments in not only the information taught but how we reach and engage each student. We know that many of the punishment approaches used in schools take students away from learning opportunities and shut students down from wanting to be a part of the community, and that these approaches are disproportionately affecting students of color and with disabilities. This is not healthy and the push to change for more equitable schools is long overdue.
I also encourage you to watch one of the Profile of a graduate talks that are somewhere on Fauquier Excellence in Education Foundation's FB page. I know that your wife attended the one in Marshall so ask her about the changes in ed that the state wants to see, they relate to bigger changes that will include the way we look at student interactions in order to promote long repressed "soft skills".
School safety is the big issue but the approaches will be over simplified and potentially make the issue worse if they only involve increased presence of authority and oppressive punishments. We must try to create a better sense of connection for students, a more meaningful learning environment that students value, and a stronger bond with the adults in the schools so that when something is off, it will not slide by as easily.