While educators, policy makers, and parents are questioning the usefulness of standard suspension protocol, suspension rates across all grade levels have more than doubled over the past three decades. Some studies have found that a large percentage of the suspensions are for minor infractions such as disrupting class, tardiness, and dress code violations, rather than for serious violent or criminal behavior.
Meanwhile, students who have been suspended are missing out on valuable days of education, which can lead to lower student achievement. Additionally, out-of-school suspension correlates the child’s increased likelihood of dropping out and greater risk of future incarceration.
A recent analysis of Department of Education data by the Center for Civil Rights Remedies at UCLA’s Civil Rights Project has found that racial minorities and students with disabilities are suspended at almost twice the rate of their white and non-disabled peers. The data was culled from 10 states’ schools, ranging from kindergarten to 12th grade, from the 2009-2010 school year. Some 500 schools in California were represented in the study.
The study revealed that male students of African-American descent with disabilities had the highest rates of suspension, as 25 percent was suspended at least once during the school year (compared to 13 percent of disabled students and 7 percent of students without disabilities). Identified as disabled or not, black students were the most likely to be suspended of any race, though Latinos and American Indians also were suspended at higher rates than whites.
For example, during the 2009-10 school year, the Los Angeles Unified School District had an overall suspension rate of 5.9 percent. But when race was taken into account, the dramatic difference in rates became apparent. Amongst black male students, the rate was up to 23 percent, compared to 5 percent of white males. Rates were lower in general amongst female students, but minorities still faced higher rates of suspension than their non-minority peers.
Even more striking disparities in risk of suspension could be seen between students with and without disabilities. In the Placer Union High School District, 8 percent of non-disabled students experienced suspension at least once during the school year. However, disabled students were ten times as likely to be suspended, as a whopping 86.7 percent of students with disabilities had been suspended during the same school year.
The California data supported the overall study conclusion that black males with disabilities had the highest suspension rates. In the San Bernardino City Unified School District, black male students with disabilities had a 59 percent rate of suspension, while amongst non-disabled black male students was 29 percent.
The disparity between non-disabled and the disabled students’ rates of suspension suggests that children with disabilities are not getting the additional support and counseling in schools.
With the correlation between suspension and future performance, the higher rates of disabled students being suspended for potentially minor infractions puts them at great risk for future incarceration. The implications of this study are sobering, as students with disabilities make up a large proportion of children who are in the juvenile justice system.
Overall, studies have shown that the practice of out-of-school suspension does not help schools provide a safer or more productive educational environment for the suspended student nor their classmates. Educators and policy makers are discussing alternative forms of correction or discipline, like in-school suspension.
Structured programs that address multiple issues can help students get back to class faster and stay there. However, while this may help reform the practice, it does not address the underlying issue that disabled students are subject to more disciplinary action than non-disabled students.