By Kirsten Bokenkamp
Last week, we introduced a blog series dedicated to sharing information from the new Breaking Schools’ Rules report published by the Council of State Governments Justice Center and Texas A & M. This edition shares some shocking statistics regarding disproportionate use of harsh discipline on children of color and children with special needs.
It is not news that school discipline disproportionately impacts students of color. But, before this study, possible explanations for this disparity included that African Americans may disproportionately come from low-income households, are overrepresented among special education students, or may miss more school than other races. This study controlled for these factors, showing that race is, in fact, a predictive factor for whether a student will be disciplined. What’s more, the majority of the punishments were discretionary. The numbers are astonishing:
- 75% of African Americans (83% for males) between seventh and twelfth grades were involved in the school disciplinary system, compared to 64.8% for Hispanic students and 46.9% for white students.
- A much larger percentage of African American (26.2%) and Hispanic (18%) students were placed in out-of-school suspensions for their first violation than were whites (9.9%).
- About one-fourth of African American students (25.7%) had more than 11 discretionary disciplinary actions, compared to about one-fifth of Hispanic students (18.1%) and less than one-tenth of white students (9.5%).
Special Education Disparities
Similarly to racial disparities in discipline, nearly all of the suspensions or expulsions of special education students (98.1%) resulted from a discretionary decision by a school official—not a mandatory removal under state law. Certain disabilities—like emotional disturbance—correlated with increased incidents of discipline.
- 74.6% of the students who qualified for special education services were suspended or expelled at least once between their seventh-and twelfth-grade school years.
- Whereas nine out of ten students identified as emotionally disturbed were removed from the classroom at least once because of a violation of their local code of conduct, just a little more than one in three (37%) of the students with a disability such as autism or mental retardation were similarly involved in the disciplinary system.
- Approximately half (48.4%) of the students coded as having an emotional disturbance were suspended or expelled 11 or more times.
This study leaves no room to doubt that both children of color and children who qualify for special education services are disciplined at a higher rate than their counterparts. The discriminatory impacts of these actions need to be addressed in order to ensure that all children can learn in a supportive environment. Please visit Educate, Don’t Incarcerate to find out what you can do to help. Next Edition: Abuse of discretionary expulsion offenses