A new analysis of data from the US Department of Education’s Office of Civil Rights reveals some highly troubling statistics about special education and students with disabilities.
During the 2009-2010 academic year, 13 percent of students with disabilities in grades K – 12 were suspended. In comparison, 7 percent of students without disabilities were suspended.
The rates of suspensions from school are even higher among African-American children with disabilities: One out of four were suspended in 2009 – 2010.
In ten states (including California, Connecticut, Delaware and Illinois), more than a quarter of African-American students with disabilities were suspended in that time period. In Illinois, a shocking 42 percent of African-American students with disabilities were suspended, while about 8 percent of white students were.
In some school districts, African-American male students with disabilities were suspended at notably higher rates. The New York Times cites figures for two such districts, Henrico County Public Schools in Virginia (where almost 92 percent of all African-America males with disabilities were suspended, compared to 44 percent of white males with disabilities) and Memphis (where nearly 53 percent of all African-American males with disabilities were suspended).
In general, African-American students, with disabilities and without, were suspended at higher rates than students in other racial groups. In 2009-2010, one in six was suspended at least once, vs. one in 13 American Indians, one in 14 Latinos, and one in 20 whites.
The Center for Civil Rights Remedies at the University of California, Los Angeles, analyzed the data, based on raw statistics released by the Department of Education in March.
How Can We Reduce Rates For Suspensions?
In the face of these disparities, the Department of Education has opened 19 investigation in 15 different state in which minority students were disciplined at higher rates. Russlyn H. Ali, assistant secretary for civil rights in the Department of Education, noted that “in lots of these urban districts especially, the leadership and faculty are also people of color” so “racism” can’t be singled out as the reason.
Educational staff from Chicago interviewed by the New York Times noted that teachers are struggling to address the needs of students with behavior problems and all the more in the absence of sufficient supports and resources: Karen Lewis, president of the Chicago Teachers Union, says that the ratio of social workers to students in her school district is 1 to 1,000.
The Southern Poverty Law Center in Florida has filed complaints against five counties in Florida due to disparities in the suspension of students. Stephanie Langer, a staff attorney for the center, said that, in some cases, students were suspended over “minor violations like taking a cellphone to class or violating a dress code.” In Escambia county, while African-American students only comprise 36 percent of the population, they accounted for 65 percent of suspensions.
Higher suspension rates have been linked with dropout rates and lower students test scores; they are also predictors for future incarceration.
As Daniel J. Losen, the director of the Civil Rights Project’s Center for Civil Rights Remedies, says in Education Week, something is very much “amiss.” Some of the students receiving suspensions “may have an explicit need for help with their behavior outlined in their education plans, which should warrant counseling or appropriate therapy” — services and supports that they do not seem to be receiving.
Armed with all these facts, can school districts adopt policies to be pro-active?
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