New federal data finds students of color and disabled students disciplined more harshly

March 21, 2014

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In a far-reaching national survey of how students of different races and students with disabilities are faring at school, the federal government reported Friday that widespread disparities exist in discipline practices, with students of color and students with disabilities subject to harsher penalties.

In addition, the newly released Civil Rights Data Collection allows the public to search for discipline and other data by school and district throughout the nation.

The harsher penalties start in preschool for African-American students, according to the Department of Education’s Office for Civil Rights, which issued the report.

Black students represent 18 percent of preschool enrollment nationally but 42 percent of students suspended once, and 48 percent of students suspended more than once, the department found. The survey was the first analysis in 15 years of 97,000 of the nation’s public schools, representing 49 million students, the department said.

“Racial disparities in school discipline policies are not only well-documented among older students, but actually begin during preschool,” said U.S. Attorney General Eric Holder in a statement. “Every data point represents a life impacted and a future potentially diverted or derailed.”

Students with disabilities are 12 percent of the student population but represent 75 percent of students who were physically restrained at school and 58 percent of those who were put in seclusion or involuntary confinement, the department said.

The 2011-12 Civil Rights Data Collection confirmed what the Discipline Disparities Research-to-Practice Collaborative announced earlier this week. The collaborative issued reports that used a smaller data set from the Office for Civil Rights from 2009-10. Among those findings was the conclusion that there is no evidence that racial disparities in discipline – which occur most frequently for African-American boys – are due to higher rates of offenses or more serious misbehavior by those students.

The newly released data is the first time national information on preschool suspensions has been collected – and the figures are startling, noted Daniel Losen, director of the Center for Civil Rights Remedies at UCLA’s Civil Rights Project. “The whole purpose of preschool is to teach kids how to be successful in the K-12 system,” Losen said. “They’re not bringing guns or drugs to school. You’ve really got to wonder why are we suspending preschoolers.”

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