Black and American Indian students in Hesperia Unified schools received a higher proportion of out-of-school suspensions than their peers during the 2009-10 school year, according to federal data released this spring.


Although they accounted for 8.7 percent of Hesperia Unified School District's 22,685 students at that time, a report from the U.S. Department of Education shows black students made up 17.6 percent of the district's 1,080 out-of-school suspensions.


American Indian students made up 0.7 percent of the district's population, but received 2.8 percent of the suspensions three times the expected rate per capita.


"I don't have the data to support or contradict that," HUSD Superintendent Mark McKinney said, unclear as to how the Department of Education obtained its data. "We don't care about color; it's a matter of their behavior."


National data mirrors the local trend. The Department of Education reports black students make up 18 percent of the nationwide student population but receive 35 percent of the suspensions.


The statistics are no surprise to Regina Weatherspoon-Bell. The founder of the Save Our Sons program, which works to connect black young men with positive role models, she also sits on the Youth Accountability Board for the Apple Valley Unified School District.


"A lot of teachers have a tendency to feel threatened as these boys start to mature, (and) they grow and their voices deepen," she said. "Sometimes it's a matter of culturally how they've been raised, and what is taken as a negative (behavior) by an administrator or teacher may just be a difference as culture. ... That's why there's such a disproportionate amount of expulsions, especially among African-American males."


Some of them also face the added challenge of growing up without a father figure or other positive male role model in their lives, she said.


"We also have to be very honest about the male influence at that particular age," Weatherspoon-Bell said. "We have young men who are trying to identify themselves as men and (learn) how men will behave."


McKinney, a former elementary school principal, said he saw no pattern of bias in the district's suspensions.


"What I saw, as a principal, was that our suspensions flowed along with the demographics of the school," he said. If one group is being disproportionately disciplined, "absolutely we want to look at it."


"It's such a complex and multi-layered challenge," Weatherspoon-Bell said. "The ones that suffer the most are the ones we're supposed to try to help and save."


"Either way, all Hesperia kids need some help, no matter what color," Sarah Soria, a Mojave High School graduate, posted to the Hesperia Star website in response to the data. "At my school, the white kids were the ones dealing drugs and the black ones got into more fights, but it's easier to get caught for a fight than drugs. Only thing that helped with fighting at my school was Synergy Day. Kids realized that they were more similar than different and were able to work out their differences."


The complete data from the DOE report can be viewed online at OCRData.ed.gov.