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Suspension Rates Higher for Students of Color With Disabilities, Data Show

By Sarah D. Sparks — April 24, 2018 2 min read
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The U.S. Education Department released massive new data on civil rights issues in more than 99 percent of school districts nationwide. The 2015-16 data highlights ongoing gaps in course access, exclusionary discipline, and other areas for traditionally disadvantaged students.

Black students and students with disabilities were each significantly more likely to be suspended out of school than their peers in other student groups, according to the new civil rights data.

Those days out of school can quickly add up on a campus like the 405-student Clary Middle School in Syracuse, N.Y. In 2015-16, Cleary’s black students collectively missed 512 days of school due to out-of-school suspensions—more than three and a half times as many days missed for discipline than all other racial groups combined, according to a newly required civil rights measure shown here:

Being a student of color with disabilities increases the risk of being suspended even more, according to a study released last week by the Center for Civil Rights Remedies at the University of California, Los Angeles, Civil Rights Project, and the Houston Institute for Race and Justice. Researchers analyzed federal special education data on out-of-school suspensions for special education students, who historically have experienced exclusionary discipline at disproportionate rates.

“For kids with disabilities, they are getting a lot more in terms of supports and service when they are in school,” said Daniel Losen, the director of the UCLA civil rights center, who led the study, “so when they are missing school because they are suspended, they lose more.”

Looking at national special education data, Losen found that while students of all races with disabilities showed higher rates of discipline than those for nondisabled students, some massive gaps remained between white and black students in the total number of days lost to suspension. In both the 2014-15 and 2015-16 school years, black students with disabilities lost roughly three times as much instruction from discipline as their white peers did. In 2015-16, for every 100 students with special needs, the amount of lost school from suspensions was 121 days on average for black students, compared with 43 days of school lost for white students with disabilities.

“In Nevada, you have 153 days more missed instruction if you are black and have a disability than if you are white and have a disability,” Losen said. “This is not necessarily legal proof of discrimination, but when we see numbers like this, there is something broken here.”

The new civil rights data indicator may bring more accountability for schools and districts with wide gaps in suspensions and expulsions for students with disabilities from different races. That’s important, as an analysis of federal data by the Education Week Research Center found many states likely underestimate disparities for students in special education.


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A version of this news article first appeared in the Inside School Research blog.