School & District Management

Report: Students With Disabilities Face Harsher School Discipline Than Peers

By Christina A. Samuels — March 21, 2014 2 min read
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Students with disabilities represent about 12 percent of the public school population in the 2011-12 school year. However they also represented:

  • 75 percent of students physically restrained at school;
  • 58 percent of those placed in seclusion or involuntary confinement; and
  • 25 percent of students who were referred to law-enforcement or subject to school-related arrest.

Also, 13 percent of students covered by the Individuals with Disabilities Education Act were suspended from school, compared to 6 percent of students without disabilities.

The information came from the latest data collected by the U.S. Department of Education about the nation’s schools. The Civil Rights Data Collection is gathered primarily so that the department has the information it needs to enforce civil rights laws that provide for equal educational opportunities for students of different races, genders, disabilities, and English-speaking skills.

This year’s data release is the first since 2000 reflecting information from all schools and districts, including all charter schools and juvenile justice facilities. In 2012, the department released data reflecting statistics gathered during the 2009-10 school year. However, only 7,000 school districts were a part of that data collection. This time around, the department collected data on districts representing nearly all of the nation’s students.

In the 2009-10 data collection, the department also found that, although black students make up 21 percent of students with disabilities, they represented 44 percent of the cases in which mechanical restraints—where students are controlled using some kind of a device—were involved. For the most recent data collection, the department found that black students represented 19 percent of students with disabilities, and 36 percent of those who were controlled to mechanical restraints during the school year. It is not clear whether the difference represents a change in practice, or is linked to the fact that more schools are involved in the 2011-12 data collection.

Taking a closer look at state data, the collection showed that almost all of the students in Nevada who were physically restrained, 96 percent, were students with disabilities. Florida, at 95 percent and New York at 93 percent had percentages nearly as high.

Stay tuned for more from Education Week on this massive data collection, which can be found at the Education Department’s civil rights data website.

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