Alarming Statistics About Special Education and Suspensions

Anew 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 (includingCalifornia, 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.

TheCenter for Civil Rights Remedies at theUniversity of California, Los Angeles, analyzed the data, based onraw 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 theNew 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.” InEscambia 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.

AsDaniel 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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Photo by taberandrew


Steve D.
Past Member 1 years ago

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trina firey
Trina D. firey4 years ago

This article should stay focused on either disability discrimination or minority discrimination-it's all over the place

Jen Matheson
Past Member 5 years ago

That's terrible, Misty! I'll definitly signe your petition.

Misty Lemons
Past Member 5 years ago

At my child's school they've just put a policy in place to double punish students. If a child goes to the time out room and other punishments 3 or more times in a semester they will be excluded from any social activities at the school. They were already punished, why punish them more and ostracize them? Parents were not even asked for their input on the policy. It was snuck under the radar and put on a recent newsletter more of as an afterthought rather than a proper announcement. I for one am not standing for this and have put together a petition that I plan on bringing to the school board at their next meeting. I need as many signatures I can get. Please, support the children. It is appreciated.

Stephen Brian
Stephen Brian5 years ago

Oops: I should probably amend that answer.

Schools can adopt policies to be proactive, but the medicine may be worse than the disease. If this is a cultural issue, which it appears to be, then the answer must come from parents and cultural leaders. Presumably teachers are either already setting a good example and are positive influences on their students, or they won't suddenly start in response to some school-policy.

Stephen Brian
Stephen Brian5 years ago

If the problem causing students in specific minorities to be suspended so much more often is cultural among the students rather than a matter of bigotry, a solution from the schools may do far more harm than good. They could approach it from the discipline-end or the remedial end.

A discipline-based solution would have to be some form of racial profiling in school-discipline. While I am not in principle opposed to properly conducted profiling, profiling by authorities in a school-setting would effectively promote racism among the children at the schools.

A remedial study-based solution would be an effective lowering, in some way, of standards at which a student from those minorities is transferred from general education to one specialized for some kind of learning-disability. That would leave far more of them in programs which must move at a far slower pace and, as a result, do not go as far. While this may help those genuinely in need, false positives which arise from this lowering of standards would leave minority-students who would otherwise succeed with far fewer opportunities coming out of school. The socioeconomic division this sort of difference in education can drive is so severe that, with the resentment driven by such division, it may actually lead to even more racism among graduates of those schools than would a discipline-based solution.

"Can schools districts adopt policies to be pro-active?" No, but maybe parents can.

Kris Allen
Kris Allen5 years ago

The problem with "statistics" is that they are just numbers and not an explanation in any meaningful way. People look at these numbers and immediately form their own, often faulty, conclusions. Many, like Jen, just use schools as scapegoats for societal problems.

The students who need special help often have behavior problems for the same reason they have learning problems. Teachers are responsible for the educational environment of ALL their students, not just the ones with special needs. That means removing a child who is a threat or major distraction to others. Perfect solution? No! But given the resources schools have, what do you expect?

Berny p.
Berny p5 years ago

IF you want better education...more teachers...YOU have to pay for way or another....
there is NO pot of gold at the bottom.....of the pay ground!

Dorothy N.
Dorothy N5 years ago

Regular teachers are not trained, and may not necessarily have chosen, to deal with special needs students, and trying to cope with over-large classes and budgetary constraints places enough strain on them to contribute to burn-out and less ability to cope well.

LOTS of patience is something essential to have with children, especially in an educational situation, as stress and fear limit abilities to absorb, focus and enjoy learning - excess stress crowds out patience.

Mainstreaming sounds to me more like a cost-saving measure than anything else, and unfair to students who can't hope to keep up with the others, destroying self-confidence.

Too often, a half-trained aide is supplied for multiple special needs students and in any case, special needs students may need one-on-one help.

'Special needs' means that they have special needs which must be supplied - suspensions are a set-back more difficult for them to make up.

If a society can't put the money necessary into educating - and properly feeding, housing, and supplying the medical needs of - children, there's something very, very wrong with its priorities.