Archived: Are Students Being Suspended Because of Their Race, Ethnicity or Disability

By Julissa Catalan


According to a study conducted by 26 experts, a school-to-prison pipeline which transitions underrepresented children from school discipline to prison is very much in existence.

The findings indicate that Black students and kids with disabilities are suspended at “hugely disproportionate rates compared to white students,” said the report by the Discipline Disparities Research-to-Practice Collaborative, which is made up of experts in fields like advocacy, policy, social science and law. Latinos, Black and Latina girls, and LGBT students were also suspended at a high rate.

“We already knew that African-Americans were disproportionately affected, but this new research is also saying that it’s also Latino students, it’s also students with disabilities, it’s also girls of color,” said Russell Skiba, the Indiana University professor who directed the project. “LGBT students may be at risk for increased discipline. These things have a big effect on achievement.”

Research indicates that Black students were 78 percent more likely to be suspended from school than white kids, while Latinos’ were more than twice as likely to face the same discipline than their whites peers. Disabled students were suspended at double the rate of non-disabled children, and for longer periods of time. Black students with disabilities seem to receive the harshest punishments as 25 percent received at least one out-of-school suspension in the 2009-2010 school year.

The study also indicates that restorative and prevention programs, which call for more interpersonal communication between teacher and student, are more likely to have an effective disciplinary outcome, as opposed to out-of-school suspension. The collaborative finds that this approach would lower suspension and disruption rates, thus benefiting both the poorly behaved students and their well-behaved peers.

“Several studies indicate that racial disparities are not sufficiently explained by the theory that Black or other minority students are simply misbehaving more,” the collaborative wrote.

The group gathered their information from research studies and data from the U.S. Department of Education.

Disparate discipline in schools has been under investigation in recent months.

The Obama administration released its first legal guidancewhich relied on the Civil Act of 1965on school discipline at the beginning of this year. Schools were warned that they are now legally responsible for all decisions made in their buildings, including the impact of unequal actions and decision-making. This includes the actions of police officers who do not work directly for the school district.

Last month, President Obama launched the My Brother’s Keeper Initiative, a $200 million program aiming to guide boys of color to success in school as well as in life after graduation. This is done through mentorship and communal solution, as well as through discipline reform.

“School districts have just been put on notice and now we’re showing them there’s real research to show that there are alternatives to frequent use of suspension that will not just reduce suspensions but also reduce racial disparities,” Dan Losen, a member of the collaborative who directs the University of California, Los Angeles, Center for Civil Rights Remedies, said.

The study began shortly after the Sandy Hook mass shooting in Newton, Connecticut, a time at which schools around the country increased on-campus police security.

“There is a tendency in times of threat to focus on implementing more extreme solutions,” Skiba said. “There are schools that feel they need to use metal detectors or video surveillance but we also need to realize that kids who really get to the point where they want to engage in these incidents, they’re looking for ways around those things. Our best bet is to be comprehensive from the start and say let’s look at all levels.”

The report concludes that this form of segregated over-discipline has an adverse effect on underrepresented students as they then regress to becoming underachievers who become accustom to being in trouble with authority.

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