After paying $608,000 for equitable policies, this school district is staring down high crime rate, persistent discipline disparities

Girl Sitting on Ground While Being Bullied in School

A North Carolina school district that spent more than half a million dollars on policy changes in pursuit of equity has seen an uptick in crime in recent years while short-term suspension disparities have continued, according to publicly available data. 

The Winston Salem/Forsyth County School District reportedly began questioning its disciplinary policies in 2020. The school board has since voted to pay a nonprofit more than $600,000 to revamp its code of conduct to pursue more equitable disciplinary practices.

As the district’s equity policy was implemented and the code of conduct was revamped, the district of more than 50,000 students has reported increased criminal acts, according to disciplinary data available on the North Carolina Department of Public Instruction’s website

A Chalkboard Review analyzed the total number of criminal acts and incident rates for individual schools going back to the 2015-16 school year based on data reported to the state.

The district did not release the current year’s data to Chalkboard Review but contends that incidents of aggressive student behavior and fighting in the first three quarters of the 2022-23 school year have decreased compared to the same period in the 2018-19 school year. 

These numbers do not appear on the North Carolina Department of Public Instruction’s tally of specified acts of crime and violence. Instead, the State Board of Education “is required to compile an annual report on acts of violence in the public schools.” 

The law requires that the state board compile data on 16 different criminal acts. The latest report available is for the 2021-22 school year. According to the district’s statement and publicly available documents, the school’s equity policy was adopted in January 2020 and implemented in the 2021-22 school year.

The state-level data show that criminal acts have risen steadily at Winston-Salem/Forsyth County Public Schools, with the 2021-22 school year seeing the highest ratio of criminal acts per student in the years analyzed by Chalkboard Review.

In the 2015-16 school year, there were 359 criminal acts in the district reported to the state education agency. The total number of acts per 1,000 students was 6.7 while the statewide average was 6.6 criminal acts per 1,000 students. 

In the 2021-22 school year, when the district said it was implementing its racial equity policy, Winston-Salem/Forsyth County Schools reported 587 criminal acts to the state. The total number of criminal acts per 1,000 students was 11.4. 

The statewide average in the 2021-22 year was 7.5 criminal acts per 1,000 students. 

Statewide, there was a decrease in reported acts leading up to the pandemic, with a spike after students returned to the classroom.

Winston-Salem/Forsyth County saw an increase in the total number of criminal acts and rates leading up to the pandemic with 543 criminal acts reported to the state in the 2018-19 school year, 430 acts in the 2017-18 school year and 363 acts in the 2016-17 school year.

Of 587 acts reported in the 2021-22 school year, 286 were for possessing a controlled substance followed by 148 criminal acts of possessing a weapon. There were 91 assaults on school personnel including 13 assaults at Cash Elementary School, according to the state’s crime reporting data. 

In the 2018-19 school year, the next year before pandemic-related school closures, there were 128 assaults against school personnel. In the year before that, the district reported 69 assaults on personnel; in 2016-17 there were 76.

The district told Chalkboard Review that they see that assaults are down compared with last school year and said mental health problems are looming large. 

“What is on the rise are mental health concerns and the number of students requesting mental health services or exhibiting the need for more intensive mental health supports,” said Brent Campbell, the external relations officer for the district. 

The district says it is working on changing behaviors by focusing on mental health and instating a new code of conduct which was made in partnership with Engaging Schools. The district’s board voted to pay Engaging Schools $198,000 in 2021 and an additional $410,000 in 2022, which came from federal COVID-19 relief funds. 

In 2021, a district leader told NBC News it was changing policies after seeing racial disparities in student discipline. 

“A large portion of our strategic plan as we move forward is equity and making sure that we look at things through an equity lens within the district,” deputy superintendent Jesse Pratt told NBC at the time. 

The school district’s short-term suspension rate for Black students in 2018-19 was about 59% of all suspensions, according to data given to the state. The percentage of Black students suspended in the 2021-22 school year was unchanged at 59%. 

The district says on its website that Black students comprise 29.4% of the student body. So while Black students make up less than a third of the student body, state data show they accounted for nearly two-thirds of short-term suspensions last year. 

It’s not clear yet how the new code of conduct will impact racial disparities in suspensions or the number of crimes the district will report to the state agency. But the district said it is working to change behaviors now. 

“This entire year we have taken a preventative and proactive approach through Social Emotional Learning in schools, licensed therapists, trauma-informed and restorative practices training for staff, and a focus on changing behaviors through the implementation of a new code of character, conduct and support,” Campbell said. 

“That code starts with setting clear districtwide expectations for students followed by consistent protocols,” Campbell added. The code of conduct is currently being implemented this school year.

Brendan Clarey
Brendan Clarey is K-12 editor at Chalkboard Review. Reach him at

Don't Miss Out!

Subscribe to our newsletter to stay on top of the latest education news and commentary everyone ought to know about.