School Climate & Safety

Majority of Special Ed. Students in Texas Suspended, Expelled

By Nirvi Shah — July 19, 2011 2 min read
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A new study by the Council of State Governments Justice Center took a close look at how often students in Texas are disciplined by in- and out-of-school suspension and expulsion.

Among the findings: Students with disabilities are especially likely to be punished by one or more of these methods. The researchers looked at records for close to one million students and found that 75 percent of middle and high school students with disabilities in the nation’s second-largest public school system were suspended, expelled, or both at least once. That compares to about 55 percent of students without a disability.

Another report earlier this year found that New York students with disabilities were also particularly vulnerable to suspension.

I wrote more about the study’s overall findings today.

But the punishments weren’t handed out equally across all types of students with disabilities. Of students with an emotional disturbance, more than 90 percent were suspended or expelled at least once between 7th and 12th grades. And half of the students with an emotional disturbance were suspended or expelled more than 11 times.

For students with a learning disability, it was about 76 percent and about 63 percent for students with a physical disability. Students with autism or mental retardation were far less likely to be punished the same way: The study found that 37 percent of these students were suspended or expelled.

For all students with a disability, less than 2 percent of their actions required suspension or expulsion by state law, similar to what was true for all students regardless of whether they had a disability.

This study is all about the what, and less about the why or how. The authors wanted to prompt policymakers in Texas and around the country to examine their discipline practices and make adjustments—and ask themselves whether suspending or expelling students makes schools safer or improves behavior.

In the section about students with disabilities, they write about this a little, noting that the type of disability was the best predictor of a student’s likelihood of being punished.

“Given the finding that the presence of an emotional disturbance, but not a learning disability, had such a significant impact on suspension and/or expulsion, additional research would be helpful in understanding why this is the case.”

They go on to say that schools need help finding the best solutions to managing classrooms of all kinds.

“No one needs another study to confirm that managing, within one classroom, the behaviors of children with diverse needs, including those with particular disabilities, can be challenging. That said, to maintain safe and effective learning environments for all students, and to improve outcomes for students with educational disabilities... state and local government officials need assistance across systems ... whose differing perspectives about policies, programs, and practices may shape future multidisciplinary initiatives to reduce high rates of suspension or expulsion among this particular subset of students.”

A version of this news article first appeared in the On Special Education blog.