DOE: School Suspensions of Boys, Blacks, Disabled May Violate Civil Rights Laws

By Melanie Arter | December 13, 2012 | 11:36am EST


Tim Tebow at L.A. Boys and Girls Club (AP Photo/Nick Ut)

( “Students of color, students with disabilities and male students” are suspended at a disproportionate rate to their peers, in “potential violation of civil rights laws,” an official from the U.S. Department of Education said at a congressional hearing Wednesday on the so-called school-to-prison pipeline.

“We are alarmed by the disparities in disciplinary sanctions, particularly for students of color, students with disabilities, and male students,” said Deborah Delisle, assistant secretary for the Office of Elementary and Secondary Education at the Education Department.

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In written testimony, Delisle said such disparities are a “potential violation of civil rights laws.”

“When African-American students are more than 3 ½ times as likely to be suspended or expelled as their white peers, or students with disabilities are more than twice as likely to receive out-of-school suspensions as their non-disabled peers, as they are today--it raises substantial concerns,” Delisle told the Senate Judiciary Committee.

“These concerns are reflected in our department’s enforcement efforts and in the stories we’ve heard from the field, which demonstrate too often that students face disciplinary actions on the basis of their race,” she said.

For example, Delisle noted that an African-American student in kindergarten was suspended for five days for setting off a fire alarm while a white student in 9th grade in the same district was suspended for one day for doing the same thing.

Rep. Danny Davis (D-Ill.), a member of the Congressional Black Caucus, said at the hearing that he and the CBC have “advocated vigorously for over a decade that the federal government should lead the effort to address the over-disciplining of youth--a key factor involved in the educational crisis of African-Americans and especially African-American men.”

“I am much more likely to be suspended, not just because I am male or just because I am African-American, but because I am an African-American male,” said Davis.

“We must focus on the early years as well. It is unacceptable that African-American male preschoolers are expelled at almost nine times the rate of African-American girls with white preschool boys being expelled at almost four times the rate of their female peers,” Davis added.

Sen. Dick Durbin (D-Ill.) also cited statistics on the disparities in discipline in the nation’s schools. He said African-Americans are three times more likely to be suspended and four times more likely to be expelled than their white peers. Also, more than 70 percent of students arrested in schools are African-American or Latino.

He said disparities also exist with students identified as lesbian, gay, bisexual or transgender.

“What’s more, the disparities extend beyond race," said Durbin. "Nationally, students with disabilities are suspended at more than twice the rate of students without disabilities, and gay, lesbian, bisexual and transgender youth are more likely to be disciplined and arrested than their peers."

“Suspensions, expulsions, and in-school arrests lead to kids being out of the classroom and a troubling increase in the number of people in the juvenile justice system,” Durbin said.

“This school-to-prison pipeline has moved scores of young people from classrooms to courtroom. A schoolyard fight that used to warrant a trip to the principal’s office can now lead to a trip to the booking station and a judge,” Durbin said.

“Sadly, there are schools that look more like prison than places for children to learn and grow. Students pass through metal detectors, and police roam the halls. Suspensions, expulsions, and in-school arrests lead to kids being out of the classroom and a troubling increase in the number of people in the juvenile justice system,” Durbin added.

To make sure all students are “treated equitably as a nation,” Delisle called for “a multi-prong strategy that encourages educators to pro-actively monitor their discipline practices for disproportionality, assess for root causes where disproportionality exists, and engage in a broad-based community effort to develop an action plan to root out discrimination in the administration of discipline.”

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